Transitioning from service can be an overwhelming process, and this is particularly true for navigating the healthcare system. This can be compounded by the first port of call – a visit to your general practitioner – being a vastly different, and often uncomfortable, experience from what you’ve grown accustomed to during service.
For Vietnam veteran Richard McLaren, his GP just didn’t understand what he’d been through. After serving in the Vietnam War, Richard returned home changed forever. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 1995, Richard has suffered from severe depression, attempted suicide, and endured anxiety attacks, social dysfunction and phobias. From the outset, he struggled to trust or build rapport with his doctor.
“It can be terribly frustrating when you are dealing with people who were born after the Vietnam War and don’t know anything about the situation you were involved in,” Richard says.
PTSD can affect quality of life and have a negative impact on relationships, friendships, social and vocational function, as well as physical health. Many veterans suffer the symptoms of PTSD and are not aware that help is available.
These symptoms include irritability, anger, depressed mood, anxiety, social isolation and poor sleep. Patients are also at increased risk of developing other physical conditions, including heart disease, gastric complaints and sleep disorders.
For veterans like Richard who suffer from PTSD, it can be difficult to trust the advice of someone with no first-hand experience of the ordeals experienced, or the resulting impact on mind and body.
With over 27 years with the Australian Defence Force, GMRF Ambassador of the GP education program, Dr Phil Parker, is one healthcare professional who does understand this toll.
“It can be difficult to recall and discuss some events from the past,” Dr Parker says. “The trauma may still be extremely raw, even years on from service. In a safe environment and with the right carer, it is possible to have discussions that can lead to significant benefits in quality of life.”
Dr Parker wants to assure veterans that there are general practitioners out there who are available and committed to the care of veterans.
“Engagement with the right health providers can make or break the treatment journey. It is important for the veteran to connect with a GP who is willing to invest in their long-term care.”
With the help of the right health team, it is possible for veterans with PTSD to live high-functioning lives. With the right support, effective treatment can be provided to help all veterans.
Understanding of the condition of PTSD among medical professionals has come a long way in recent years, and the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation is committed to ensuring it goes even further by equipping them with theknowledge they need to provide the best possible holistic care to their patients.
New knowledge comes through innovative medical research, and in 2013 GMRF and RSL Queensland commenced a research project to help veterans and their families. The PTSD Initiative was a worldfirst study, investigating the physical and psychological toll of PTSD in Vietnam veterans.
With the study now published in the Medical Journal of Australia, this research has been translated into clinical practice, with an education program to help GPs and other healthcare professionals better identify the signs and symptoms of PTSD. To date, almost 650 health professionals have completed the GMRF online education module. Of those, over 95 per cent stated they would be confident managing a patient with PTSD, having completed the education.
You can help spread the word by mentioning the education program to your GP and other healthcare providers and referring them to www.thinkgp.com.au/gmrf
. They might be interested to know that they will earn Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points for completing the course.
To find out more about the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation, visit www.gallipoliresearch.com.au