Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Australian and Canadian Governments both concerned about veterans mental health after the war has ended

Soldiers' mental health needs serious addressing

Photos ( 1 )
A wounded Canadian soldier crawls  for cover.

A wounded Canadian soldier crawls for cover.

Photograph by: Finbarr O'Reilly, Reuters Files , The Canadian Press

WASHINGTON - More than 10 years of war in southwest Asia has created a major problem in military families of post-traumatic stress disorder that will remain a paramount healthcare issue for years to come, according to a high-level tri-country symposium held here Monday.
The symposium, which featured top military and civilian experts from Britain, Canada and the United States, marked the first time the NATO allies have come together to share their experiences and knowledge of PTSD.

"We don't want the people of Canada, the leadership and the soldiers themselves to conclude that since we are sort of drawing down on the combat operations that we are going to see less of the mental health issues that we are seeing impacting our members and their families," Colonel Rakesh Jetly, psychiatry and mental health adviser to the Canadian Forces Surgeon General, said. "For years after deployment conditions can emerge."

These are the countries that did the brunt of the frontline fighting in Afghanistan and their soldiers and military families have been affected the most by PTSD. Their experts met at the Canadian embassy to share their experiences.

Although thousands of studies have been written on the subject, the knowledge gaps are still quite broad, experts said.

Experts don't really know why some military forces are more affected by it than others or how to assure that soldiers complete their treatments. Nor is it clear how to assess a soldier's vulnerability to PTSD before he or she goes into combat.

The percentage of soldiers who suffer from PTSD is up to 25 per cent in the United States, compared with 8 per cent in Canada and 4 per cent in Britain.

But these numbers don't tell the whole story. U.S. soldiers rotated back into combat more rapidly than British or Canadian and they also tend to be younger.

Retired U.S. Col. Charles Hoge, also a psychiatrist, said the chance that a soldier will suffer from PTSD increases greatly the more he or she is exposed to combat.

But that does not fully explain why professional British combat soldiers have an rate of only 7 per cent, compared to the American's 25 or the Canadian's 20.

Success rates in treating PTSD tend to be 70 to 80 per cent, but only with soldiers who complete their treatments, Hoge said. If you include soldiers who don't complete the treatment, the rate is only about 40 per cent.

Jetly said leadership is a key component of preventing PTSD.

"Leadership sets the tone, the tempo," he said. "In the field of combat, effective leadership, unit cohesion, confidence in yourself and your equipment and your leaders and your peers has been shown throughout the ages as being crucial in people's performance, fitness and what occurs afterwards."

He said Canada and its allies have tried to give better tools and training to leaders to assure the self-esteem of their troops.

The transition from war to normal life is "a jarring experience" Hoge said. Soldiers return to civilian still hyped up with combat stress. Their reactions continue to be those of someone in combat. Their anger or rage is essentially focused adrenaline; their detachment from their families mirrors their self-imposed numbing of the senses to the wounding or deaths of their combat buddies; their constant alertness and over-reaction to mistakes, their sleeplessness can all occur because their bodies and minds are still in combat lock down.

"One doesn't stop being a warrior upon homecoming," he said.

Hoge noted that PTSD also affects the families of the soldier.

"They have a deployment of their own," he said. "They deal with the concern, worry and the reality of knowing that the knock on the door could come at any minute."

Charitable organizations are playing an increasing role in the three countries in helping military families.
The symposium, which was held at the Canadian embassy, was sponsored by the Canadian charity True Patriot Love, which helps soldiers and their families deal with the stresses of the military.

Read more: http://www.canada.com/Soldiers+mental+health+needs+serious+addressing/7292480/story.html#ixzz27VCmJnpvMental health risk after war's end

THE federal government admits it doesn't know how many of the nation's soldiers will suffer from mental illness when they return from Afghanistan and other wars. 
Australia is set to bring most of its troops home from Afghanistan, as part of the widespread drawdown of Western troops, by 2014.

But there are concerns that many will return home nursing major mental health issues - with some symptoms taking years to surface.

As of June 30 this year, almost 44,000 troops have been deployed to the Middle East, with 964 having since been medically discharged, Minister for Defence, Science and Personnel Warren Snowdon said.

Of those, 440 were discharged for conditions related to mental health.

Close to 70 per cent of that number were assessed to be suffering as a direct result of their deployments.

Mr Snowdon said the government doesn't know how many troops will suffer mental illness in the future.
"What we don't know is for all those who have served on overseas operations, and I include navy personnel involved in border protection, exactly how their military service might affect their future health in the decades to come," he said.

"This is particularly the case with mental health issues."

Mr Snowdon, speaking to the RSL national conference in Sydney, said there was still great stigma attached to mental health issues but that he was heartened by the progress being made to tackle the problem within the Defence Department.

Mr Snowdon suggested more money would need to be spent tackling defence mental health issues after 2014.

"We're already devoting additional resources to those things and we'll continue to monitor that performance," he said.

The RSL's NSW president, Don Rowe, said he anticipated an increased demand on his organisation's services as troops return home.

"There is a need out there to provide strong and powerful resources to them, to ensure they are looked after, to ensure that they're able to return to society," Mr Rowe said.

"They're young men and young women and they deserve to enjoy a full and fruitful life."

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