Nearly 80 percent of Māori military personnel have PTSD symptoms

7:51 am on 25 April 2020

An alarming number of serving or retired New Zealand military personnel either have at least some symptoms of post traumatic stress, or would likely be diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if they were assessed.

New Zealand Army soldiers inside an Australian Army vehicle during the mission rehearsal exercise for Task Group Taji 3 at RAAF Edinburgh, with about 300 Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen prepared for deployment to Iraq in exercise at RAAF Edinburgh in Adelaide, South Australia.

Photo: NZDF / Supplied

A University of Otago study of 1817 New Zealand military personnel has found one in three have symptoms of post traumatic stress, and one in 10 would likely be diagnosed with PTSD.

The results suggest that the prevalence of clinically significant post traumatic stress is higher among military personnel compared with the general population, where rates are estimated to be 3 percent.

Lead researcher David McBride said of the 256 Māori who took part in the study, 78 percent showed at least some symptoms of post traumatic stress.

"218 Māori had a score less than 45 which means low PTSD, and 38 had high distress, 10 percent having PTSD really, that's the more severe PTSD," he said.

"The problem comes in transition, in leaving the military, and going back into civilian life again where if social support is lacking, things happen really.

"One of the problems is being isolated and I think that might be one of the problems with Māori, they're more likely to be living in more isolated communities and that could be part of the problem.

"However, a lot of our respondents were currently serving so that's not the whole picture."

More research required

McBride acknowledged more research needed to be done to understand why Māori featured so heavily in those with symptoms of post traumatic stress, and how family dynamics could be a factor.

Those with fewer signs of post-traumatic stress had a greater length of service, psychological flexibility and better quality sleep.

University of Otago Associate Professor David McBride.

Associate Professor David McBride. Photo: University of Otago

McBride said more needed to be done to identify post traumatic stress within the military community earlier.

"We need to identify the warning sides which are lack of sleep or if a veteran has symptoms of anxiety or depression," he said.

"But first of all they need to own up to the fact that they are a veteran and seek appropriate support. It's all about health-seeking and talking through your problems."

A lot of it is about values, beliefs and attitudes of many veterans because of the military culture, think that asking for help is a sign of weakness, which it is not.

He said looking after veterans during the pandemic, especially during Anzac day, was important than ever.

"We need to look after our veterans, especially during this time of year. They'll be used to socialising, they'll be used to seeing their mates, and if they're living alone this will be a bad time for them.

"The RSA has been in touch with veterans and helped them out with deliveries."

The New Zealand Defence Force helped with the survey and most of the responses came from veterans who had been deployed.

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