Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

Dawn Service Reflection

Dawn Service Reflection

Freya Roberts

Year 10

Recently, I've become more aware of commemoration for those who went to war and never made it back. This is good. We must not forget.

I've also become aware there isn't as much said about those who made it back, who made it out alive - who themselves commemorate the loss of their friends or family.

There is even less said about those who made it back, and because of the trauma and shock of what they've experienced, take the extreme way out.

I think sometimes for people, definitely for me, you can feel a sort of disconnect from the tragedies of war. You hear the stories of the survivors and think, “What does this have to do with me?”

Thankfully, I have never experienced war. I can't understand what service people experience. Yet, it is because of their sacrifice that, in part, I am able to stand here not having lived through war. And I am grateful.

Of course, I know that I would never in a million years like to be in a situation of war, but the years have made the past distant. It's hard not to think of that generation only as people with strange accents and words, not as real people who actually lived and breathed. Including my own great-grandfather, who returned with PTSD after serving in New Guinea during WW2. His condition significantly impacted my extended family, but I didn't know him which makes it difficult to feel the weight his PTSD has in my family's story.

Having said that, I heard something recently that has affected me significantly. The widow of an Afghanistan veteran shared how when her husband came back from the war, he found the burden he brought home with him too much to bare. He took his own life.

Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that from 2001 to 2014 292 defence personnel took their own lives. But that only includes personnel who joined from 2001.

Ex-serving men aged 18 to 24 accounted for 23 suicides - a rate that's almost twice that of Australian men on average.

More Australian soldiers have been lost to suicide than in the Afghanistan War.

For some reason I have found when people like the contemporary War Widow talk about the recent tragedies of veterans committing suicide, the pain of war becomes easier for me to understand.

Especially for my generation, I think it's easier to connect with the realities of war when there is more discussion and acknowledgement of the feelings of pain and depression.

Open discussion and acknowledgement of feelings is a good thing. But it's not easy.

How can we as a community better support discussion and acknowledgement of PTSD, to help service men and women to feel it's okay to seek treatment? How do we support their families?

How do we stop the increasing rate of suicides? And how do we support families who have experienced this?

Clearly, things are changing. A federal government offer of free, uncapped treatment for depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse and PTSD has been taken up by more than 1,000 current and former defence personnel in just three months.

But we need to do more. Wars are still a reality.

It is important to remember the sacrifices made in the past, and continue to be made. We need to learn the lessons of history. We must not forget them.

And I believe we have to do everything we can and whatever is needed to help those affected by conflict.

We must not forget them. We will not forget them.

Lest we forget.