Home' Vetaffairs : Vetaffairs Summer 2016 Contents 7 — Vetaffairs Summer 2016
Acting Mental Health Adviser
Department of Veterans’ Affairs
The mental health effects
of trauma, and in particular
post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD), have been very much in
the public mind recently, with
considerable media coverage
and political focus. There is a
lot of good information avail-
able on PTSD and how it can be
treated. However, there are also
misunderstandings and mis-
conceptions, and people who
have experienced trauma don’t
always know what is true or
where to turn for help.
The following overview is very
brief; more detailed information
and links to other credible infor-
mation can be found at DVA’s At
Ease website (at-ease.dva.gov.au).
What is PTSD and what
PTSD can result from direct
exposure to trauma or by help-
ing others who have experienced
trauma. Direct exposure can
include something that happens
to you or something you see
or hear. Indirect exposure can
include being a first responder
who provides immediate help or
listening to trauma stories later.
Exposure to trauma can hap-
pen to anyone in the community
but the nature of military service
greatly increases the chance of
exposure for current serving
and former members, and their
People exposed to trauma are
likely to experience a range of
emotional, physical and psy-
chological reactions and may
be quite disturbed or upset for
a time. However, some people
will develop ongoing symptoms
of PTSD, including: intrusive
memories or nightmares; re-
experiencing trauma events;
significant changes in hyper-vig-
ilance and irritability; persistent
avoidance of reminders of the
trauma event; and negative
changes in mood or thinking,
including feeling detached from
friends and family and losing
interest in activities.
What are the best
treatments for PTSD?
DVA supports treatments where
there is good evidence that they
work. In relation to PTSD, there
are a number of evidence-based
primary treatments. These
include trauma-focused cogni-
tive behaviour therapies – most
notably exposure therapy and
cognitive processing therapy
and eye movement desensiti-
sation and reprocessing.
An intensive version of expo-
sure therapy is currently being
tested for suitability and effec-
tiveness for Australian serving
and ex-serving members in Bris-
bane, Sydney and Melbourne.
To learn more or to volunteer for
the trial, visit phoenixaustralia.
org/RESTORE, and see the article
Detailed information about
of PTSD can be found in the
Australian Guidelines for the Treat-
ment of Adults with Acute Stress
Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress
Disorder, which is approved by
the National Health and Medical
Research Council. It is available
A range of other psychological
and pharmaceutical treatments
can support these therapies,
VVCS is here for you over Christmas
Many people find the Christmas season to be a
particularly tough time. There are so many things
going on, with the added pressure of work events,
family functions and sometimes the financial
strain associated with gift giving. Add loneliness
or heartache, and you‘ve got a cocktail that may
lead to feelings of depression.
For the serving and ex-serving community
in particular, some of whom may already be
struggling with a mental health condition, the
Christmas season may trigger feelings of loss
and isolation associated with sad memories. This
is common, and the most important thing to
remember is that you are not alone. The Veterans
and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS)
is here to support you!
VVCS is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
It provides free and confidential nationwide coun-
selling and support for war and service-related
mental health conditions. VVCS counsellors have
an understanding of military culture and can
help to address concerns such as relationship
and family issues, anxiety, depression, anger,
sleep difficulties, post-traumatic stress disorder
and alcohol or substance misuse, with the aim of
finding effective solutions for improved mental
health and wellbeing.
If you’re going through a tough time, feel-
ing lonely or just want someone to talk to,
call VVCS on 1800 011 046 and get the support
and other activities such as yoga,
meditation and mindfulness can
be beneficial as well. DVA will con-
sider funding for other treatments
so long as they are part of an evi-
Do people recover from
PTSD has proven challenging to
treat but people with the disor-
der can expect to live normal lives
if they get effective, evidence-
based treatment. However, an
increased vulnerability to recur-
rence of symptoms is likely and
greater attention to psychological
self-care may be required for sus-
tained psychological and physical
think I (or someone I care
about) has PTSD?
A good place to start is your GP. In
particular, if a GP diagnoses PTSD
(or depression, anxiety, or alcohol
or substance use disorder for that
matter) and you have had even
a brief period of continuous full-
time service in the ADF, treatment
is available without formal accept-
ance of a claim.
Further details of this program
can be found on page 6 and online
A free phone call to the Veterans
and Veterans Families Counsel-
ling Service (VVCS) on 1800 011 046
can also provide information and
assess you and your family’s eli-
gibility for their service. Current
serving members can call the ‘All-
hours Support Line’ on 1800 628
036 or contact the Defence Com-
munity Organisation. DVA’s At
Ease website (www.at-ease.dva.
gov.au) has a wealth of informa-
tion and resources to help you find
support and tools to assist with
If your family and friends are
telling you they are concerned
about you, or if you are struggling
with aspects of your life, you don’t
need to deal with it alone – instead
take action to make a change.
Trial of new treatment
for PTSD underway
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common and often severe
problem. About 12 per cent of Australians will experience PTSD in
their lifetime, and current and former military personnel are affected
at higher rates than the general community.
As many veterans are aware, PTSD can involve reliving a traumatic
event, feeling wound up, avoiding reminders of a traumatic event, and
feeling afraid, angry, guilty or numb. Those experiencing PTSD may
lose interest in their day-to-day activities and feel cut off from their
family and friends. PTSD can be a serious condition that can cause
great distress, problems in relationships and a reduced ability to work.
However, in many cases recovery is possible and there are excellent
One of the most effective treatments is prolonged exposure (PE)
therapy. PE helps individuals learn ways to gradually face traumatic
memories, places or activities in a safe and supportive environment.
Individuals are taught skills to manage negative feelings and they are
monitored and supported throughout the therapy.
PE has been successfully implemented across veteran and military
clinical settings in the US and has been found to aid recovery for vet-
erans with PTSD. The treatment is typically delivered once a week
for 10 weeks, a duration that may pose a problem for people who
have deployments, training exercises, family and other work and life
With this in mind, the Phoenix Australia Centre for Posttraumatic
Mental Health in partnership with DVA, the Department of Defence
and the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS),
has received funding from the National Health and Medical Research
Council to conduct a study of intensive PE therapy – the RESTORE trial.
The therapy is delivered over a shorter period than usual. Intensive
treatments have been found to be effective for other mental health
conditions and preliminary research suggests its potential effective-
ness for PTSD too.
The RESTORE trial is assessing whether intensive PE, involving 10
sessions over two weeks, will be as effective as the standard, 10 weeks
of weekly PE.
The trial will involve about 200 participants, either current or for-
mer Australian Defence Force personnel who are 18 to 70 years of age.
Participants must be experiencing symptoms consistent with PTSD,
related to a traumatic experience during their military service.
Participating involves a series of interviews and attending either
daily therapy sessions for two weeks or weekly sessions for 10 weeks.
Allocation to either daily or weekly therapy is random, so participants
can’t choose the group to which they are assigned, and they must be
available to attend either treatment schedules.
Interviews and therapy sessions will take place at VVCS offices in
Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as at the University of NSW
and the ADF Centre for Mental Health in Sydney.
The trial is of course free of charge. The benefits to participants will
hopefully include an improvement in their PTSD symptoms, and a
better quality of life.
Anyone participating will also be helping the broader military and
veteran community by increasing our understanding of effective
The RESTORE trial has already begun but more volunteers are
needed. Anyone interested in participating themselves, or in refer-
ring someone else, can call 1800 856 824 or go to phoenixaustralia.org/
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