Poppy Appeal shines light on veterans’ mental health

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HE theme for this year’s RSA Poppy Appeal, not all wounds bleed, highlights the fact that mental health injuries are the most common, but least understood, of all wounds suffered by New Zealand servicemen and women.

The appeal, which raises vital funds to support the growing needs of New Zealand’s veterans and their families, has been officially launched in Auckland today and will culminate in Poppy Day on Friday, April 20.

RSA national president BJ Clark said the RSA was committed to providing a wide range of help to former members of the military who had served in deployments around the world.

“There’s a growing demand for our support services, including an increasing number with service-induced mental health injuries.

“These are best described as any persistent psychological difficulty resulting from duties.

“These injuries may occur because of exposure to trauma or stress arising from combat, operational duties in a conflict zone, or other traumatic or serious events such as civil defence emergency or disaster relief,” Mr Clark said.

NZ Defence Force medical director Dr Paul Nealis said stress injuries occurred along a spectrum, ending with the most severe wound – Post Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI).

“Symptoms of PTSI include reliving the event, including nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts. In addition, sufferers can experience avoiding thoughts, feelings, or situations that serve as reminders of the event, feeling numb or cut off from others, being easily startled and being vigilant for signs of danger,” Dr Nealis said.

New Zealand now has 41,000 veterans – the most at any time since the end of World War II.

“Many Kiwis would be surprised to learn that nearly three-quarters of those veterans served in overseas deployments since the Vietnam War,” Mr Clark said.

“This younger generation of veterans have to deal with many of the same life challenges of those earlier generations of service men and women but perhaps without the understanding of the public that they too had experienced some dangerous, stressful and personally distressing situations in their service for New Zealand.

“This can lead to the kind of mental health challenges that many of our former service men and women are dealing with on a daily basis.”

The Poppy Appeal is a time for New Zealanders to recognise that service and give back to those who have made sacrifices and put their well-being at risk for others.

The 2018 Poppy Appeal marks the 96th running of the appeal, making it New Zealand’s oldest continuously run appeal.