Veteran Family Mental Wellbeing Series – Episode 2: What is Mental Health?

– When I was about 10,
I broke my right wrist, which saw me in a cast for
about six weeks, I believe. – When I was very young, I chopped the tip of my finger off with a tomahawk, and the GP just simply bandaged it up, and it grew back on again. – When I was about seven years old, I fell out of the tree,
and broke my collarbone, so then they put it in a splint. – When I was young, playing
footy, and I broke my hand, and they put a cast on it, and I think I wore that cast for
about six or eight weeks. – In the Iran-Iraq War, I was
taken captive by some gunmen, and I thought I was going to die. And at that moment,
something triggered in me a hyper-response and that condition has remained with me ever since. – I had mental health issues throughout a number of deployments, not just on return from deployments, but certainly it was an injury very hard to understand and comprehend, akin to being in the darkest chasm without any possible
horizon or orientation, and feeling completely lost and alone. – I have a mental illness,
which is an invisible wound. I've been diagnosed with
post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder. – It's very difficult to describe something that's happening on the inside when no-one can see the injury. – If you're dealing with the body, you can observe physical signs, but with mental health, there
are often no outward signs. – Mental health is more complicated than just the absence of mental illness. Mental health requires that people contribute proactively to maintaining what would be a good mental health, and this requires things like staying away from alcohol and drugs, making
sure you're sleeping well, making sure you're socialising,
exercising and eating well, keeping up with hobbies and activities. And these things tend to
prevent mental illness, and also treat pre-existing
mental illness. – We very much consider
that mental health – there's a lot of focus on
mental health out there – but mental health is just one component of a general health situation. Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social balance and wellbeing. – We know that people who
have had military service are more likely, considerably more likely, to develop mental illness than
in the Australian community. – Veterans are more likely to
develop mental health issues, probably because of
two critical variables. One is, they spend an
inordinate amount of time away from home, loved ones,
and a stable environment. And two, is because they're in situations and in environments
where they need to make very, very important decisions that have impact on their lives and the lives of many others. – When you're joining the military, basic training and routine military life is a very challenging role. And explicitly so, in
order to build you up to manage the adversities that are potentially to come into the future. And we think about some
of those stressful events, or potentially traumatic events that might be experienced in military life that pose risk factors for mental health, it's important we think
not only around deployment but also a broader array of stressful and traumatic events. Recently, we've just had published the outcomes of the first, kind of, comprehensive prevalence
study of mental health in the ex-serving community
who have discharged or transitioned out of defence
in the previous five years. – 75% of individuals transitioning out of the services for
whatever reason will, in their lifetime, experience some form of diagnosable mental illness. – And the most common of those, post-traumatic stress and
post-traumatic stress disorder, which was rates of about 17%, and a broad array of anxiety
problems or anxiety disorders. We also see elevations
in rates of depression, at around 12%, and also in
alcohol problems, around 13%. – In simple terms,
post-traumatic stress disorder is the difficulty an
individual experiences resolving a very difficult situation that they've been
exposed to in their life. Anxiety can be described as an individual worrying about something
that isn't really there, and that worry becomes persistent and may cause other symptoms. Depression is characterised
by people having low, sad or irritable mood, and this causing significant dysfunction in their ability to carry out their normal life activities. Addiction is when an individual engages in a pattern of behaviour that is causing them clear
negative consequences, and yet they continue. – It's critical that someone keeps a close eye on the holistic approach, the approach to the whole person, and that includes the psychological and mental side of treatment. – The challenge for any
clinicians dealing with veterans is that every veteran has
complex health situations. Now, they've got injuries to their minds, they've got injuries to their body, they've got injuries to their souls, they've got relationship difficulties, they're struggling with
identity or purpose. So, there's a complex
health situation there that needs to be addressed. – Within the military, mental illness is perceived on the whole as a weakness. I think as a result of this, volunteering mental illness
is often seen as a barrier to ongoing employment in the military, your ability to deploy, or
your likelihood to be promoted. I'm often asked about
what measures we can use to decrease mental health
stigma within the military, because it is a long-term,
cultural, integrated problem. – And certainly, we see
this as a critical issue around mental health within
environments like the military. – I think that we can
destigmatize that area of mental health if we were
to name it for what it is, and that is: an integral
part of our humanness. Just as our relationships,
our professional world, our physical being, our future focus – these are simply integral
parts of our humanity. – What we need is that
somebody can put up their hand and say they have a mental illness, and it's gonna be treated like a physical problem with
rehabilitation first, and I can then come back into work and do the job I previously did. There is a fear amongst military personnel that conditions like anxiety, depression and particularly PTSD, are permanent, and cannot be cured. This is incorrect, and certainly, all of these conditions
are eminently treatable, and can be treated to the point where they no longer affect
an individual's life. – Recovery is possible. The symptoms of stress, the challenges that the family member has endured, do not have to be pervasive,
enduring, and life-long. Recovery is possible. – Be aware of what those symptoms or early signs of psychological
distress might be, and I reach out to the veterans themselves or the military serving
personnel themselves as well as their families, watch for them, and if you feel they might be there, access services as soon as possible. They are all very treatable. (slow piano music)

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