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Learning to listen... care experienced veterans

Learning to listen... care experienced veterans

Posted by: Dale Meller | 29 June 2018| Categories: Reports

As we approach Armed Forces Day we asked Lindsay Kirkwood (Principal Psychologist and Clinical Lead) and Joanne Bailey (Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist) from Veterans First Point in Irvine to share their thoughts on care-experienced veterans and mental health. This is what they had to say.

For many young adults considering their career options, the Armed Forces can be quite appealing. Not only do they provide excellent training opportunities, but the Armed Forces also provide housing, take care of household bills, and offer an opportunity to travel. They also give a sense of purpose, structure, and belonging – not to mention a strong sense of achievement.

It should come as no surprise, then, that for some young adults who are exiting the care system, the Armed Forces are a particularly desirable option.

Many young adults who have been in the care system have had difficult and often abusive childhood experiences, both in and out of care.  Whereas other aspects of society may have failed to offer a sense of belonging, structure, or achievement, the Armed Forces offers all of these in a stable career environment.

It could be seen as a suitable match, given that those brought up in the care system have often had to mature more quickly and become more independent from an earlier stage in life.  These qualities are often desirable leadership traits within the Forces, and those who have been in care and who have developed a sense of maturity and independence may do well in rising within the ranks.

However, it may also be the case that for those who have been affected by negative experiences within the care system, Forces life is difficult. Childhood abuse can lead to vulnerabilities within adulthood and can make some individuals more susceptible to further bullying.  Furthermore, experiencing childhood abuse and then undergoing stressful and traumatic events in combat situations may make one more likely to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or other mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety.

The solution is talking and sharing say Lindsay and Joanne.

For many, talking about and sharing experiences of abuse in care has been taboo for far too long. Similarly, it has historically been seen as weak to openly discuss any traumatic experiences in the Armed Forces, particularly those experiences not directly related to combat. Many individuals may also feel that others could not possibly understand their trauma without having experienced something similar themselves.

More recently, however, we now recognize the important benefits of sharing such experiences in a safe environment with someone who will listen. Research shows that even brief storytelling exercises can have substantial impacts on psychological and physical health even months after sharing.

Moving forward, we must make an active, tangible effort to create these safe spaces for care-experienced veterans. And what can you do for the veterans in your life? The answer is simple: be there for them, ask if they’re doing okay – and listen.  Find out more about Veterans First Point here.

Please get in touch to learn more about sharing your care experience with the Forum.

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