On ANZAC day 25th April 2020, a news item recognised the findings in a study of the often silent impacts upon New Zealand’s Armed Forces Personnel and the high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress or PTSD they experience.
In many ways, we are affected by delayed knowledge. When we think back to Māori who were recruited to fight in both World Wars, Vietnam, Malaysia and other campaigns. ANZAC prompts us to acknowledge them and the sacrifices they have made to our country. What we may not realise are the losses that have affected nearly every aspect of life after war or a campaign by our communities.
In the last 40 years, there has been a recognition of the men and women who have not recovered from their experiences in war or the stressors post combat, and for some continued to experience long term psychological problems. What is best known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the condition was better understood following the Vietnam War (1963-1975).
Clinically viewed as a delayed action to traumatic events outside of the person’s normal experience, (including war). The condition manifests itself in acute, intense feelings of fear, helplessness, horror and sound of roaring or emptiness. Symptoms can cause a person to re-experience the events again (flashbacks). It may cause diminished responsiveness to whānau, hapu and iwi or withdrawal from the outside world. Associated symptoms can include memory impairment, sleep disturbances, feelings of guilt, anger, a sense of isolation, problems with relationships, difficulty in concentration and irritability. Individual and contextual factors such as personality changes, social acceptance and characteristics of the trauma may have an impact on the severity and duration of the disorder. PTSD is chronic and progressive – if not attended to can lead to depression, alcohol and substance abuse, anxiety and distrustfulness of others (American Psychiatric Association, 2006).
Whilst whānau do their best to make their returned soldiers feel at home, many of the returned armed forces do find it difficult to settle. Used to being around their mates, being in a regimental routine, some will feel restricted and empty, seeking solace in the company of those who understood them.
In World War II the spiritual wellbeing of Māori soldiers was critical, supported by Padre, Tohunga, Kaumatua and through the practice of karakia (prayer). Before they left for their campaign and upon their return home, soldiers were considered to be in a state of noa requiring a process to have their tapu restored and spiritual balance enhanced to ensure their overall wellbeing.
Taha Wairua and Taha Hinengaro are as integral as the physical fitness and safety in the armed forces personnel. Given the high percentage of Māori joining the armed forces and going to war, in addition to their experience of PTSD, more is needed to balance and address the human components of the soul and the mind.