Defence boss writes to troops urging open attitude, writes Danya Levy.
There are calls for more research and funding for post-traumatic stress disorder amid concerns the Christchurch earthquake and deployment of troops into combat zones could cause the number of sufferers to soar.
It comes as the Defence Force releases figures showing an explosion in the number of soldiers being assessed as having psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The number has grown from 39 in 2006 to 134 last year.
While army figures have risen and fallen over the five-year period, figures for the navy and air force have grown from single digits to 45 and 44 respectively.
There have been five suicides in the past six years. Two further deaths – Corporal Douglas Hughes in Afghanistan in April and Private Alexander Stewart Rope near the Linton Army Base last Friday – are being considered by the coroner.
Chief of the Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said the apparent increase in mental health cases in the navy and air force could be attributed to the introduction of electronic records.
Data from the Chief Coroner showed New Zealand had a national suicide rate of 1 in 8000, while Defence Force statistics were 25 per cent lower at 1 in 10,000.
PTSD sufferer and former Lieutenant Colonel Bill Blaikie said there was likely to be an increase in people with the disorder following the Christchurch earthquake, particularly in emergency services workers, and within the Defence Force following attacks on New Zealand troops in Afghanistan.
“A lot of those people are already out there but are not being picked up at the moment. We need to put some study into how many cases there are.
“PTSD is one of those illnesses which is put in the too hard basket.
It gets left behind because it covers depression, anxiety and avoidance issues.”
Labour’s associate health spokesman, Iain Lees-Galloway, said while there was much talk about mental illness, there wasn’t a lot of discussion about the impact of trauma.
“Any mental illness has a significant impact on families. Children growing up in the presence of mental illness or trauma are impacted more probably than those growing up in the presence of a physical illness.”
A draft of the Government’s response to the Mental Health Commission’s blueprint for improving mental health showed no additional funding for services for the 2012-2017 period, Mr Lees-Galloway said.
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said the mental and emotional fallout from the earthquakes had been substantial and the Canterbury District Health Board was already providing services for those suffering from quake- related stress.
“The Government is doing everything it can to support people through an incredibly difficult and extended time.’
There was already good research in place and PTSD was just one aspect of mental health the Government was continually working on, he said.
It is Mental Health Awareness Week and General Jones wrote to troops this week saying mental health needed to be talked about openly to avoid people being stigmatised.
“If you are having issues you probably couldn’t be in a better place.
We’ve got five layers of support that people can turn to for
assistance: chaplains, psychologists, medical, command chain and mates.” Fairfax NZ