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December 17, 2019

Australian Rotary Health supports veterans’ mental health.

The veteran community across Australia, including residents and clients of RSL LifeCare, are among those who will benefit from the work of Australian Rotary Health. They are funding two PhD research projects; one concerning PTSD and one regarding veterans’ children. In many communities the RSL and Rotary Clubs have worked together to support the research. 

I started Brave Face to help people to keep on the ‘brave face’, in the ups and downs, sadness and angers, to just try something – with all that needs to still be done every day with work and study, home and family, and health – to just keep moving, and enjoying the water,”
– Bryan said.

Australian Rotary Health is funding research of two PhD projects which will assist the veteran community.

Australian Rotary Health PhD scholar Bryan Peck is researching how surf therapy may help veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and PhD scholar Katrina Streatfeild is looking at the needs of children of veteran parents who have PTSD.

Bryan’s interest in PTSD began after researching the experience and effects of shame in trauma-based disorders.

He wanted to understand more about PTSD; how someone can experience a trauma they didn’t choose, resulting in a debilitating negative sense of flawed self which could prevent optimal functioning in health and daily life.

His research also grew from his own battle with depression. He found being on the water made a significant difference to his mental health.

After becoming a qualified instructor he designed the ‘eight week Brave Face’ Mental Health Stand Up Paddle Program. This combined stand up paddle skills, outdoor blue-space activity, social support and mental health learning.

“I started Brave Face to help people to keep on the ‘brave face’, in the ups and downs, sadness and angers, to just try something – with all that needs to still be done every day with work and study, home and family, and health – to just keep moving, and enjoying the water,” Bryan said.

“With current treatments for PTSD such as medication and talk therapy presenting significant limitations for veterans worldwide, neurobiological and clinical evidence for adjunctive interventions that support greater components of health and wellbeing need to be better understood.”

A Rotary District 9750 (9675) PTSD PhD Scholarship, is allowing Bryan, from the University of the Sunshine Coast, to examine the interaction between neurobiological, psychological, and physical measures of health and wellbeing in veterans with PTSD, after completing his surf therapy intervention.

Clinical and counselling psychologist Katrina Streatfeild, from the University of Newcastle, is seeking to understand the experiences and support needs of children and families of Australian Defence Force veteran parent(s) with PTSD.

She aims to develop an increased and rich understanding of the mental health needs of the wider population of children with Veteran parents and carers experiencing PTSD in Australia, and particularly how Veteran parents with PTSD and their partners can be assisted to help the children in their care.

The exposure of ADF personnel to situations and events which place them at high risk of PTSD, coupled with long deployment periods and separation from family and friends, ADF life can expose its members to unique mental and physical health challenges. Left untreated, PTSD and related issues can transition with ADF personnel once they are discharged.

This research will fall under the umbrella of an existing vSHADE Research Project (see, funded by Defence Health Foundation to explore Australian ADF Veteran mood and alcohol use problems, and the impact of web-based interventions for this important group.

An outcome of this research will be the development of an eHealth intervention for children of Australian Veterans and their families, to accompany an existing eHealth program for the Veterans themselves (vSHADE).

Story by Liz McDougall


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