Dylan Fraser is an Afghanistan veteran who asked for the support group to be started due to struggling with mental health issues post war.
Dylan Fraser is an Afghanistan veteran who asked for the support group to be started due to struggling with mental health issues post war. Allan Reinikka ROK091116adylan1

Afghanistan vet talks about living isolated life

WHEN the only people in the world that are in your support network are your wife and your psychiatrist, your world is very lonely and isolated.

And when your social anxiety is so bad, your wife ends up cancelling pre-booked family events the day before every event, leaving you feeling depressed about letting down your children, you can't help feel the cycle is never ending.

For Rockhampton resident Dylan Fraser, his world for the past 10 years has been topsy-turvy.

He was diagnosed with PTSD in 2013 after serving 10 years in the Australian Army with tours to East Timor, the Solomon Islands and Afghanistan.

But his diagnosis was back-dated, meaning his doctors believe he had PTSD since 2006.

Dylan told his story to The Morning Bulletin in the lead up to the first meeting of a new support group in Central Queensland for veterans (see story here- Support for CQ younger veterans).

He said he never had any depression or anxiety problems before he joined the Army, but his mother did notice he changed after his first overseas deployment.

"I remember my mum saying that after my first trip, I came back a different person," he said.

"A little bit more on edge, hyper-vigilance had kicked in. Sleeping habits... a lot of drinking, a lot of alcohol involved. Stuff like that. Angry."

 

When asked if he noticed changes in his comrades, Dylan said no, they were too close to each other to notice such changes.

"Often, we go bush for three weeks and we can't smell each other. We actually smell really bad."

"Sometimes a mate's getting a bit... drinking a little bit too much so we might go 'hey, is there anything wrong? But there's never anything wrong. You just might be feeling like getting on it.

"So it was a bit hard to tell back then if things were really going on. And the stigma about it as well, especially in the infantry, was ... you sort of wouldn't really talk about it much... because the stigma about having a mental illness wasn't the best."

But it wasn't just the stigma attached to mental illness in the military community that has been a problem for Dylan and others like him.

"I think there's still a stigma these days in civilian (outside military community) world. But I think that stigma is due to a lack of knowledge - so it's no fault of their own - so I think the stigma is due to a lack of knowledge.

Dylan said the media coverage of recent times showing what it was like for Australian Defence Force personnel in recent conflict zones like Afghanistan and Iraq have helped get rid of some of the stigma attached to mental illness in the military community, as it has opened the Australian public's eyes to what actually happened.

"It's hard for a person to fully understand the life of an Army personnel or Defence Force personnel on ops (operations/overseas deployment)... because they have not done it."

While Dylan's mother was one of the first to notice something was wrong, his wife Kym, who met him a year after Dylan joined the Army, also noticed a lot of changes over the past 15 years.

She said one of the major changes was that Dylan was now very introverted whereas when she met him in Townsville in 2001, he was very extroverted.

"He was a peacock," Kym joked.

"Now, he is a little dove who will just... if I want to go anywhere, it's like dragging him out like a cat with its claws out. You can't get them to move.

"We've been booked into lots of different events over the years with the children for special occasions, Christmas, birthdays, what not and we've had to ring up and cancel at the last minute.

"Because the anxiety has got that bad," Dylan said.

"We've lost lots of money because people won't give you back a deposit if you don't ring up within a certain time as well," Kym said.

"It slowly builds up close to the event and then the day before, it's that bad that I just say 'I'm not going'," Dylan said.

"It's very disappointing. It's disappointing because then I have to make something up for the children as to why we can't go all of a sudden," Kym said.

"And then you get depression because you've let your family down," Dylan said.

"It's a big circle," Kym said. "So now I don't bother planning anything."

Other issues faced by young veterans include: Some RSL clubs are 'rude' to young vets

As for considering his comrades as a part of his support network, there are two issues with that.

One, many have moved to different parts of Australian and lead different lives.

"They are sort of scattered everywhere and it's sort of hard. I've got a small group of lads I stay in touch with, but other than that we are sort of spread out, everyone's doing their own thing with families now," Dylan said.

As to the other issue - 13 have died by suicide since 2010.



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