UniSA study: Trojan’s Trek is a world leader in supporting returned veterans deal with mental health issues

From The Advertiser, October 13th, 2013. By John Stokes. Original article here

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“A SUPPORT program that takes former soldiers trekking in the Flinders Ranges has been rated among the best in the world at helping young veterans deal with the horrors of war, a new study has found.

For the past five years the annual Trojan’s Trek has seen 10-12 ex-servicemen take part in the many diverse activities on the trek in the Flinders Ranges.  It is here where older veterans help younger comrades develop strategies to cope with their military-induced stress disorders.

The organisation Director is retired Lieutenant Colonel Moose Dunlop OAM.

UniSA Masters student Kendall Bird’s two-year study on the program, which was released at the Australasian Military Medicine Conference in Adelaide in Nov  has found that new bench marks in outdoor peer support programs have been set.  These rate the program as world’s best practice.

Lt-Col Dunlop described the Flinders Ranges as “the world’s biggest office in the largest consulting room in the world” said the setting allowed former soldiers to bond and take stock of their lives and relationships.

“Certain things happen in life which can cause anxiousness and depression which feed on each other.  Life becomes a big, big circle that goes from bad to worse,” Moose Dunlop said.  “That’s the way the returned men describe it.”

“The trek is a circuit breaker which results in individuals returning from the trek back into society as individuals who are highly motivated to change their circumstances .”

The program includes workshops and seminars as well as activities such as four-wheel-driving.

Moose said the study revealed most trekkers, in spite of being badly affected at the start, no longer showed signs of stress or depression, different to the community norms even two months after finishing the Trek.

He said the relocation of hundreds of soldiers from Darwin to Adelaide’s  Edinburgh Base in 2011, combined with the staged withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Middle East, meant more soldiers would soon be needing support.

“A lot of the soldiers will be back (at Edinburgh) and I reckon a lot of them will put their hand up and say ‘look, I’ve got a problem’.”   Moose aims to create a similar program for ex-servicewomen next year and is in the process of finding suitable female veterans to advise on content as well as take a lead.

Stephen Cates served with the army for eight months in Afghanistan in 2008  and found it difficult to adjust to civilian life on his return.

“I had a number of issues reintegrating, not so much into work, but into family life,” Mr Cates, 40, said.

“I self medicated with antidepressants and alcohol – which we all know doesn’t work.”

He said the trek gave him the chance to open up about his experience of war.

“We don’t want to tell people some of the things we’ve seen, done, heard – that’s not what we’re about,” he said.
“That’s where Trojan’s Trek comes in. It’s about peer support, being able to talk to someone.”

James Paterson, 31, served in Iraq for seven months in 2005 and went on Trojan’s Trek last month after “wasting a lot of years”. “If I hadn’t gone it was just a trail of self destruction,” he said.

“It’s all about the peer support. They’ve been there before and they’ve done it, and hopefully we can do it for the young guys that come through.”

The trek is now established as a not for profit Foundation with DGR status, ie all donations are tax deductible.

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