For many veterans, the real battle begins when they return home
Serving in the army is a family tradition for James*, who can trace his bloodline’s involvement in the armed forces for more than 300 years.
So it came as little surprise when he enlisted as an enthusiastic and fearless teenager. At the time, James said he enjoyed the tension of combat, the mateship of serving alongside friends, and the honour of representing his country.
Two decades in countless conflicts took their toll, however. Like so many others, James didn’t leave the terrors of war behind him when he returned home. Slamming doors, backfiring cars and seemingly familiar faces triggered severe anxiety – a crippling symptom of his undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.
James battled his mental illness in silence for years, not wanting to burden his family with his pain and the horrors of his past. Though tormented by vivid flashbacks, he stoically soldiered on.
Then things fell apart. In the space of 10 days his childhood sweetheart and his mother both died suddenly. These tragic events sent him spiralling into the depths of depression and alcohol dependency that eventually forced him into hospital.
A week there followed by months in rehabilitation allowed James to get his addiction under control, but he still had no way of dealing with his battered mental health.
A referral to Mission Australia proved a literal lifesaver for James – without which he believes he would be either on the street, or dead.Mission Australia case manager Anton immediately secured him accommodation at a short-term onsite housing facility and coordinated regular appointments with a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a counsellor.
For the first time in his life, James spoke about his dark past and his ongoing struggles, and felt a weight begin to lift off his shoulders.Group sessions with others battling depression and anxiety provided further relief, while group art classes gave James a newfound sense of positivity and hope. He also accessed
Mission Australia’s volunteer doctor and dental services, getting treatment for long-term health issues, as well as a new set of dentures, which did wonders for his confidence.
“Mission Australia gave me something to smile about, and something to smile with!” James now jokes.
Gradually, his mental state began to improve. In time, Mission Australia helped James find permanent housing closer to his children and grandchildren, and he transitioned back to independent living.
Almost two years on, James remains sober and continues to take steps forward. Today, he enjoys gardening, taking walks along the jetty near his home, and building model boats. Crucially, he now talks freely with his son and daughter about his mental health, rather than fighting alone.
*Names changed to protect the people we help.
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