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Preparing veterans for Anzac Day

News, Veterans

People interpret Anzac Day differently. They’ll have different relationships to it and different levels of how much they want to be involved. So, if you work with a veteran, ask what the day means to them and work from that base.”
– Dr Carolyn Deans, Senior Clinical Specialist, Phoenix Australia

It is one of Australia’s most revered national occasions, marking the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during WWI. The first Anzac Day commemorations were held in Australia in 1916 and, more than a century later, the day is still an opportunity for the nation to stop, remember and honour those who lost their lives in Australian military and peacekeeping operations.

“Anzac Day is a big day within the military community as well as the broader community,” says Dr Carolyn Deans, a clinical psychologist. “But for some veterans, Anzac Day can bring challenges and mixed emotions. Some find it important to recognise the day, while others may not want to be involved at all. However, Anzac Day can play an important role in recovery. The goal is to get to a point where the day can be positive and where a veteran can look back on their service with pride.”

Carolyn says health practitioners can provide important support to veteran clients in the lead-up to the 25th of April. Veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder or depression related to their military service, or those who’ve had a negative transition or discharge experience, can find Anzac Day particularly challenging.

“Anzac Day can lead them to reflect on these experiences. It can also raise distressing memories and triggers,” explains Carolyn.

“Another aspect of Anzac Day to consider is the non-ceremony activities veterans might participate in, such as the ‘gunfire breakfast’, or going out to the pub with their mates. If you have a client who has difficulties with alcohol, talk to them before the day, and come up with a plan to help them manage the whole day, not just the service. They might need some help to manage their drinking on the day.”

Carolyn offers some tips for healthcare professionals to support clients in the weeks leading up to Anzac Day.

  • Ask the veteran about their relationship with Anzac Day and how they feel about it.
  • Ask about their plans for the day. If a veteran does not want to take part in official or larger events, explore how they might create their own special Anzac Day event or ritual.
  • Ask what activities, if any, they plan to participate in. Will they take the day off work? If they are going to a service, is that likely to trigger any distressing memories? Do they have someone they can talk to on the day if they feel distressed?
  • Discuss any anxieties or fears the veteran may have about negative memories and associations being triggered, and help develop strategies to help them cope.
  • Family can be an important support and will know if the veteran is going to have difficulties, so where possible, encourage family to offer support in the lead-up and on Anzac Day.
  • Consider thanking the veteran for their service on Anzac Day.