Fighting the ADF’s warrior culture on mental health
Military people know it as “warrior culture”, a macho attitude that permeates throughout the Australian Defence Force. It breeds tough soldiers, sailors and airmen, who are trained to not complain and just get on with the job, despite the constant threat of life and death situations.
Part of that culture means shutting up about mental health problems. “There is a warrior culture encultured in to you,” Steve Ager, an Australian Army veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, told Crikey (read his story here). “And that old warrior culture gets you through. It’s often five to 10 years after an incident that it comes out that you’ve got an issue.”
An anonymous navy veteran told Crikey: ”A lot of people suffering from depression would keep quiet, the conditions attached spell the end of your career. If you display or get picked up on having a mental health problem, the action they’ll take is that you’re not fit to stay in and you need to get discharged.”
We hear a lot about the death toll from Australia’s war involvement (in the decade-long Afghanistan war, 39 Australian soldiers have been killed) and also about the severely wounded (249 Australian troops have been wounded in action in Afghanistan). But what about the wounds that can’t be seen — and can be just as damaging?
Today Crikey launches Battle Scars, a series examining post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues among veterans. In the coming days we’ll share the stories of veterans who have battled themselves, both during and after their time in the military. We’ll talk to the the psychologists who developed new programs after realising the ones designed after the Vietnam war weren’t working for today’s veterans. We interview the Department of Veterans’ Affairs about its role in supporting the mental health of veterans. Plus, we speak to the families left to deal with the consequences when it all falls apart.