Army faces a ‘tsunami of depression’, retired Major warns

Cathy Adams

THE Army could experience a tsunami of depressed and distressed soldiers returning home unable to cope with the atrocities of frontline combat, according to a Lismore soldier.

Retired Major Andrew Johnstone said when he landed in East Timor on his first overseas deployment he realised his training wasn't sufficient to cope with the horrors of war.

"I first went to East Timor in 1999 and I felt very ill-prepared because our training was very much focused on the Vietnam war-type tactics that really aren't relevant today," he said.

Mr Johnstone said Saturday's discovery of the body of 22-year-old army sapper, combat engineer David Wood of Casino could be the start of a flood of military personnel deaths from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mr Wood was being treated for depression after serving two tours of Afghanistan.

"It is my opinion there will be a tsunami of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) sufferers post-2015 when we withdraw from Afghanistan," Mr Johnstone said.

After two more deployments to East Timor, Mr Johnston went as an unarmed military observer for the United Nations to Israel where four colleagues were killed in a missile strike.

He served in Iraq before he was deployed to the South Pacific where close friends Captain Mark Bingley and Corporal Joshua Porter died in a Black Hawk helicopter crash off Fiji, while trying to land on HMAS Kanimbla.

"I believe that the onset of my PTSD was in 1999 and spent a decade masking my symptoms because I felt if I spoke up I would lose my career," he said.

"If PTSD had not been feared as so taboo and career ending, I would have spoken up about how I was feeling."

After being diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his experiences on the front line, Mr Johnstone was medically discharged in 2010.

He managed to turn his life around to become an advocate for young veterans.

"Without the help of Graeme Davis, John McDonough and Bob Mole and their mentoring I would not be in the position I am today where I can speak as an advocate in raising the awareness of depression and PTSD and the importance of speaking up."

A young veterans forum will be held at Lismore Workers Club on July 27 to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression in the forces.

The Department of Defence did not reply to a request for comment by deadline.

Topics:  australian army mental health post traumatic stress disorder

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