Eighty-seven troops have been released from the Defence Force on mental health grounds in the past five years and a further 67 needed help after assisting in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, new figures show.
Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones has written to soldiers urging them to seek help for mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress.
His letter was prompted by former top-ranking soldier Lieutenant Colonel Bill Blaikie speaking out about his struggle with the disorder to The Dominion Post.
A former deputy director of intelligence for the combined forces in Afghanistan, Mr Blaikie’s life fell apart after he returned to New Zealand in 2004 and he twice attempted to take his own life.
General Jones’s letter revealed mental illness figures within the Defence Force. In addition to those released and given help after assisting in Christchurch, it said nine cases of post-traumatic stress had been diagnosed since 2007.
“I believe these numbers are likely far lower than the actual numbers among us who will be struggling to come to terms with some aspect of their service,” he wrote. “Nor do they take into account the recent incidents in Afghanistan.”
Ten New Zealand troops have been killed in Afghanistan and about a dozen injured.
Help was available, General Jones said.
“I think we still do have too much of a macho culture around such issues. The courageous thing is not to suffer in silence.”
Mr Blaikie said international research showed more than a quarter of returned servicemen and women were likely to need help for stress-related, emotional or mental health problems. “So obviously we are not capturing all of those people.”
All troops on operational missions receive psychological support from the Defence Force before, during and after their deployment. There is also training in mental health areas throughout their careers.
Personnel are interviewed by a psychologist and complete a medical exam within three months of returning to New Zealand.
By DANYA LEVY
– © Fairfax NZ News
By DANYA LEVY
Bill Blaikie: Fighting back. A TOP-RANKING former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder says New Zealand’s ‘‘macho man’’ attitude discourages people from seeking help. Lieutenant Colonel Bill Blaikie was the deputy director of intelligence for the combined forces in Afghanistan and was made a member of the Order of Merit in 2005.
However, after returning to New Zealand in 2004, he slowly fell apart and twice this year he tried taking his own life.
The 50-year-old father of three is speaking out about what he says is a seldom discussed or even acknowledged mental illness, in the hope it will help others. The condition was not being recognised in emergency workers and those who experienced shocking events such as the Christchurch earthquake, he said. Returning soldiers do not discuss their problems for fear of damaging their careers. His role in Afghanistan was intense; Mr Blaikie made decisions which had life and death consequences.
After running on adrenaline 24 hours a day for months on end he struggled with the change in pace when he found himself back at Trentham Army Base working in personnel after a career in intelligence. By 2006 he began to realise something was wrong and was assessed as having post-traumatic stress disorder. ‘‘I was coping with it – sort of – but not really.’’ By the start of this year, Mr Blaikie had hit rock-bottom.
‘‘My nightmares increased, I avoided family and friends. It got to the stage where I saw there was no way out.’’ In February he tried taking his own life and a second, more serious attempt a month later was thwarted only because his wife arrived home early and his neighbour was a paramedic.
‘‘It was really that spark that I saw in my wife and my daughter’s eye when they came to hospital. I realised if I had succeeded, this would all be gone and I thought ‘I’m going to beat this once and for all’.’’ After that he began to rebuild his life. ‘‘You have to give up the alcohol, everything you did prior and start afresh. You try to get your sleep patterns and your health back.’’ That was when the memories and guilt from the decisions he’d made overseas began to return. ‘‘I started to deal with those, to bring out the demons.’’
International research shows up to a quarter of returned servicemen and women are likely to need help for stress-related, emotional or mental health problems.
Greens defence spokesman Kennedy Graham said research was needed in New Zealand to assess the extent of the problem. It was important a successful soldier such as Mr Blaikie put a face to the mental illness. ‘‘We have the magnificent soldiers coming home with their Victoria Crosses and we celebrate their bravery and their skills. ‘‘But it will be a major step forward if we acknowledge in the same way those with the same background, commitment and service, who have come back not with a medal but with major stress disorders.’’
Mr Blaikie said reading stories of other sufferers helped him, but were difficult to come by. He began writing his story as therapy but soon realised the value of giving others a forum to share their experiences, and developed a website. Mr Blaikie’s website can be found at: http://ptsdyouarenotalone.org.nz Courtesy of Fairfax Media
And then there are the other, less immediately obvious wounds. The Australian Defence Force says four Afghanistan veterans – one had also seen duty in Iraq – have committed suicide. All were still in military service when they took their lives. Accurate records are not kept of suicides among veterans once they leave. Thousands more will probably present with post-traumatic stress in coming years.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/national/wounds-of-war–when-the-human-fallout-goes-beyond-the-battlefield-20120420-1xcgo.html#ixzz262KJ1Qtr
The highest rated barrier to seeking help was concern that it would reduce deployability (36.9%). The most frequently perceived stigma for ADF members was that people would treat them differently if they sought care (27.6%), and that seeking care would harm their career (26.9%).
Almost one in five personnel (17.9%) reported that they had sought help for a stress-related, emotional, mental health or family problem in the previous 12 months. However, only half the sample with post-traumatic stress disorder or depressive episodes reported receiving treatment in the previous 12 months and only 15% of those with alcohol dependence disorder.
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