Our Practitioner Support Service team and consultants include veteran mental health experts from a range of disciplines. Dr Richard Bonwick is a Consultant Psychiatrist who has been involved with Phoenix Australia since it beginnings in the mid-1990s (then known as the National Centre for War-Related PTSD). He is an advisor to the Centenary of Anzac Centre and is Medical Director of the Melbourne Clinic.
“The seeds of Phoenix Australia’s specialisation in posttraumatic mental health were sewn in the 1990s at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, with its initial remit centred around psychological treatment programs for Vietnam veterans with PTSD. I was working there and developing a personal interest in treating those veterans, but I had a bias towards becoming an old age psychiatrist.
“I found old age interesting during my psychiatry training because you have to be a psychiatrist and understand a person’s medical issues. When people get older, they need medical interventions and surgery and may need to spend time in hospital. For soldiers who were wounded as young men or who have physical injuries related to combat service, those experiences get stirred up again when they are back in hospital in old age having hip surgery, for example. They carry a lot more baggage from the past than the average civilian.”
Richard explains that a person’s resilience reduces as they get older. “We know PTSD predisposes people to developing depression, and many veterans have episodic depressive illnesses throughout their life that requires treatment. Often, they end up in late midlife and into their 60s with a grumbling low-grade depression that is hard to treat and has quite an impact on their function in later years.
“Principally I’m an old age psychiatrist, which means I work with people aged 65 plus. Within that context, I’ve mostly worked with people with depressive disorders and with veterans experiencing PTSD, depression, and drug and alcohol issues. Most old age psychiatrists would have patients who mostly suffer dementia, but I find PTSD, depression and anxiety more interesting.”
Richard finds older veterans an interesting group to work with and the rewards can be remarkable. “For me, a good day at the office is seeing patients get better. You go through the struggles and complexities with them, get the patients to work hard and help them get support networks onside. And it’s a buzz when someone has been very unwell, their treatment changes and they are better.
“They come back and say, ‘I’m back enjoying spending time with my grand kids and I’m going out for dinner with my wife’. You see them change from being impacted by a mental illness to functioning again, and that puts a spring in my step.
“Being part of the Practitioner Support Service at the Centenary of Anzac Centre excites me. To be able to engage with other practitioners, to help educate them and to pass on some of what I have learned from my patients. For me, that’s the important part of the Centenary of Anzac Centre.”