AS the daughter of a former cop who has self-medicated his PTSD for as long as I can remember, when I learnt that RSLWA had partnered with a new mental health service run by a trio of ex-military and police for their peers (and families), I had to learn more. MAXINE BROWN reports.
THERE’S this odd little fact about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that few people know or talk about: that it is never too late to seek help.
Granted, PTSD is a monster of a condition – sometimes taking years to wrap its grim claws around the psyches of trauma survivors, before up-ending their daily lives with anxiety, severe depression, paranoia, hyper-vigilance, explosive anger, self-destructive behaviour, insomnia and more.
And let’s not minimise the toll it takes on a PTSD-bearer’s loved ones and family, either.
READ MORE: How PTSD nearly cost this Veteran everything
It’s exhausting, socially isolating and can leave its bearers feeling overwhelmed and desperate.
So is it any wonder that suicide rates among our current and former military, and first-responders – such as our brave cops, fireys and ambos – consistently outweigh those in the civilian population? Or that in Australia in 2002-16, ex-servicemen accounted for suicide rates 18 percent higher than the civilian population.
It’s why Soldiers & Sirens co-founders Danielle Baldock, a former WA police officer and now psychologist, and Daniel Bates, a former WA and Victoria police officer, set up their dedicated service offering counselling, peer support and mental health crisis assistance for past and present uniformed personnel.
The third weapon in their arsenal is Fleur Massey, a police wife and former RAF and WA Police officer herself, who has dedicated herself to equipping families of military and first responders with the tools and support to push through their unique challenges.
Not only have this passionate trio experienced first-hand the consequences of dedicating their lives to running toward the gunfire, they are now fully equipped to help others battling with their mental health as a consequence.
In fact, it was Daniel’s own battle with PTSD and suicidal thoughts, since overcome thanks to his work toward a psychology degree, which saw him initially connect with Danielle. From there, they recognised a mutual vision and Solders & Sirens was born.
The pair have heavily invested their time and capital into their registered charity. While still a fledgling operation, they are making serious waves by proving that with the right support, understanding and treatment, even the most desperately affected can turn their lives around and continue on with functional, productive and loving lives.
An example of some of their success stories include:
- The police officer who had attended multiple fatal vehicle crashes and other traumatic events in his career. He was struggling with anger and intrusive thoughts on first attending, yet completed 20 sessions AND was able to continue working during the treatment. He has reached almost full recovery and has become an advocate for mental health in his workplace.
- The ex-paramedic who was struggling with alcohol and suicidal thoughts/behaviour, along with relationship issues. He has completed 40 sessions and is now back in employment, has a loving relationship and is in control of his alcohol use.
- The ex-Army soldier struggling with depression, self-harm, and overwhelming work and relationship stress. He has now improved his self-esteem, processed both military and other unrelated traumas, and is experiencing a better quality of life.
As Danielle states: “We want people to know that being diagnosed doesn’t mean the end of your career, and that early intervention gives you a much better chance of a full recovery.”
Instrumental in their success are the weekly Soldiers & Sirens peer support meets over coffee in Ellenbrook, where attendees offer advice, share stories and open up about past traumas in an environment that is supportive and understanding. And it’s never too late.
Daniel said: “We had a Vietnam Vet who came along and told us more in 10 minutes than he had in 40 years because he felt comfortable .. and he felt good talking to someone who knew what he was on about and was equipped to help him.
“There’s no judgment, no pity and no one batts an eyelid. It’s like catching up with a group of friends where everyone understands.
“We have Vietnam Vets that turn up at peer support. Our client demographic ranges from younger people through to people in their 60s and 70s. We’ve got clients who left service decades ago. But it still feels good to process that old trauma.”
At the moment, the support groups are held weekly in Ellenbrook, although there are plans to start them south of the river, likely in Rockingham or Fremantle. And the psychology services are held in Heathridge and one day a week at RSLWA. For families, there’s a range of events planned for coming months so that partners and children of those in uniform know what to look for, where to go for help and what to do.
Fleur said: “Prior to reaching danger point – and the aim here is to not have to get to that as no one can MAKE anyone seek help – gaining education and support for themselves is so important. Educate yourself on all that your partner is going through. Learn, learn, learn. Support from others that are going through similar things ensures help is always there.
“This goes to provide a far better understanding of all that’s going on and create confidence in how to manage situations, communicate with your partner and instil boundaries to enable better relationships and a far stronger foundation at home. The partners will seek help only when they are ready and we don’t want the family to fall apart in the meantime.
“Talking with your partner about seeking help for your own wellbeing and understanding is a great idea, although not essential. Keeping them in the loop without making any demands of what you feel they ‘should’ do is a way of opening the doors to discussions when they are ready.”
- For more information about this lifesaving service, go to soldersandsirens.com.au, or follow their Facebook page