Aussie soldiers might survive a war only to take their own lives when they return home. Mental health problems like PTSD are rife among young vets, their partners and their kids.
Kiel Goodman remembers curling up in the foetal position on the bathroom floor and hitting his head. He blacked out.
“It felt like a heart attack.”
It was a panic attack.
He had PTSD. He was depressed. He was anxious.
Kiel Goodman is a young war veteran and his experience is alarmingly common.
We had no support. We were just given this broken person who we didn't know really anymore and that was it.
Back in 2008, Kiel celebrated his 21st birthday in Afghanistan. He was a gunner in the Australian Army for seven years, and was deployed overseas three times.
While he was on duty or in training, the routine and structure kept him in high spirits.
“You’re parading in the morning, you’re training, you’re doing all this stuff every day. Then you’re on ops, you’re there with your mates.”
But civilian life is another world. So when Kiel returned from a tour of duty, he would drink to numb himself then take drugs to “get some sort of life back, some kind of exciting feeling.”
Dr Peggy Brown is the CEO of the National Mental Health Commission. She’s been studying the reintegration of veterans back into the community.
“People talked about the loss of purpose and identity, that sense of belonging and the camaraderie,” she says.
Between 2001 and 2014 there were 142 confirmed veteran suicides. That makes Australian male military veterans 13% more likely to commit suicide than the general population. And those aged 18 to 29 are most at risk.
Kiel is doing better now that he has found a support network – he evens works with other veterans trying to get their lives back on track.
“Just the asking for help was a massive thing in my life. The only thing I regret is that I didn't do it earlier. Should have put my hand up a long time before.”
We are training people to go to war. But we're not training them to come home.
Andrew Perry, another young veteran, wasn’t so lucky. He died on his eighth suicide attempt.
Andrew’s partner, Bonny, weeps as she recalls his final days just over a year ago. She says more help should have been offered from the Defence Force while he was still alive.
“We had no support. We were just given this broken person who we didn't know really anymore and that was it.”
Andrew’s condition also took its toll on his step-daughter Kamaia Alexander.
“Going through uni, nobody understood what I was going through. Everyone was just like, yeah, I got wasted on the weekend, and I'm like, I stopped my dad from killing himself on the weekend.”
Dane Christison from RSL DefenceCare, says mental health training needs to start early in a recruit’s career.
“We are training people to go to war. But we're not training them to come home.”
If you are feeling stressed out and would like to talk to someone about it, you might want to get in touch with these organisations:
Lifeline 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78 www.mensline.org.au