This Anzac Day, start a conversation with those who served

Start a conversation with those who served

Next week many Australians will take part in dawn services and commemorative marches, to honour the service of Australian and New Zealand defence force members, like we have done since 1916.

Though the meaning of Anzac Day hasn't changed significantly in this time, our community has. Service members no longer return home to the shared military culture and community that existed during World War I and II. So, what is it now like to transition from military service to civilian life?

We know from current research that many contemporary service members transition successfully, reconnecting with their communities and taking up new careers, voluntary roles, sports, and leisure interests.

However, at least one in four find it difficult; because of the impact service has on relationships, employment opportunities, housing stability, and physical and mental health. As many as one in two service members experience a mental illness during the transition from military service to civilian life. Rates of traumatic injuries and physical health conditions, including arthritis and chronic pain, are also relatively high.

Considering the complex and often traumatic nature of military service, it is not surprising that many service members are reluctant to talk about their experiences.

It can be difficult to talk about mates lost. It can be difficult to talk about experiences that are ethically ambiguous; "was what I did right, or wrong?" It can be difficult to describe how the loss of military identity, culture and community has impacted who you are today. So these thoughts and feelings are often withheld.

Unfortunately, this tends to lead to an increase in physical and mental health symptoms such as sleeplessness, pain, fatigue, loss of concentration, and loss of interest in everyday life.

So what can we do to help? On Anzac Day, it is important to say "thanks for your service", to acknowledge the incredible sacrifices that service members make. We can also provide opportunities for service members to talk about their experiences. Family members, friends, colleagues, and health professionals can start a conversation by asking questions like "When and where did you complete service in the military?"

Think about Anzac Day as an opportunity to open up lines of communication, and increase your understanding of the many and varied impacts of war. Because open conversations can promote healing, recovery and reconnection. Is there any better way to honour those who served?

Kylie Carra is a PhD student at La Trobe University.