Mental health of war survivors often forgotten

Mental health of war survivors often forgotten

While we honour the sacrifice of New Zealanders in war each Anzac Day, we often forget the personal anguish suffered by those who survived.

Mental health issues, such as shell-shock, were a living nightmare for soldiers in World War I, and the same type of problems are still affecting our military personal today.

New Zealanders don't have to travel to Gallipoli or France to visit the resting places of soldiers from World War I. Thousands are buried in cemeteries across this country. Many died young from wounds, sickness or, in some cases, by their own hand.

John McLeod served as a UN Commander in Angola's brutal civil war in 1998, and what he experienced could be from any World War I story.

"There's constant attacks; there's death. I went to, just as an example, a massacre where the bodies had been on the ground for three weeks, the animals had been at them," he says.

Most of what Mr McLeod told us was too graphic to report, and he now suffers from a post-traumatic-stress injury.

"It's like a video starts running of an incident, and you just can't turn the video off, so you're just seeing it over and over again, and you don't know how to turn it off," he says.

And the mental health trauma he developed in Angola threatened to overwhelm him on his return home.

"I was really angry with the Army. I was really pissed off. I just wanted to walk out, and I didn't think they were caring for me. Six months on, and I realised the fact, the debt of gratitude that I owed the military system and my colleagues because they were the ones that helped me."

Mr McLeod is currently in Gallipoli where he's organizing New Zealand Defence Force commemorations for Anzac Day.

He, more than most, can understand what was going on in the tortured minds of our soldiers who fought there.