There are many risks associated with a career in the Defence Force. Death and serious injury are the obvious ones, but there is also a ‘silent killer’ and that’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a disorder that effects an individual’s mental health, and is characterised by failure to recover after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Thankfully, treatment is available through medical professionals that can help individuals to ‘get back on track’.
The condition may last months or years, with triggers that can bring back memories of the trauma accompanied by intense emotional and physical reactions, and symptoms are specific to the individual.
Of course, it’s normal to experience some form of distress after traumatic events. Some people may recover without professional assistance and get back to their normal lives with the support of family and friends. For many others, the distressing symptoms do not subside and can intensify to the point that their lives are severely affected.
All Australians, including Australian Defence Force (ADF) members, have the potential to be exposed to traumas that may contribute to the development of PTSD, however the rates of both military and non-military related traumas are higher in the ADF than in the wider community.
An ADF-supported health and wellbeing study in 2010 revealed that:
- An estimated 90% of ADF members have experienced at least one potentially traumatic event at some time in their life, compared to 73% of an age and employment matched sample of the Australian community
- Approximately 8.3% of ADF members will have experienced PTSD in the last 12 months, which is significantly higher than in the Australian community (5.2%)
- In particular, ADF males report a greater rate of PTSD compared with the general community (8.1% versus 4.6%).
So why are PTSD rates so much higher in defence force veterans compared to everyday Australians? Simply put, because we are trained that way.
It is instilled into us very early in our training to always be prepared – we actively alter our ‘Fight or Flight’ reactions to also revert to Fight whenever triggered. We literally re-train our brains. While that seems like an extreme response, it can mean life or death when on deployment.
When you’re in the thick of it, there’s danger all around you. Mere seconds can make all the difference, therefore being ‘always on’ can be life saving for not only yourself, but your mates with you.
When you get back to ‘normal’ life, it’s not as easy to just switch back to your previous natural behaviour. Remember, ADF members have literally re-trained their brain to respond differently to ‘normal’ human behaviour, to approach incoming danger head on. Sometimes, this response may never be fully corrected, that’s where PTSD can really affect lives.
I have PTSD. Thankfully, with the help of my family, friends and medical professionals, I have received the help I needed to address my issues and provide me with coping mechanisms whenever I enter a state of trauma. But that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily cured. It’s an ongoing battle, but having the support around me has helped immensely.
If you or anyone you know have PTSD symptoms, there’s so many incredible organisations you can reach out to for assistance. Remember, as a support person, you need help just as much as your loved one – don’t be afraid to reach out to one or more of the terrific resources available below:
Lifeline: 13 11 14, www.lifeline.org.au
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636, www.beyondblue.org.au
Headspace: (03) 9027 0100, www.headspace.org.au
PTSD doesn’t discriminate. No matter how tough you think you are, not addressing any underlying issues can snowball into bigger things – problems with drugs and alcohol, anger management and personality disorders.
Remember: it’s not weak to speak. In fact, it’s very brave. And as someone who has ‘been in the trenches’ (so to speak), I cannot recommend it highly enough. It helped give me my life back.