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Anzac Day 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 World War I. More than a century later, we will stop, remember, and honour those who lost their lives in Australian military and peacekeeping operations on Anzac Day.
In honour of Anzac Day, we interviewed Phoenix Australia Ambassador Sharon Bown, keynote speaker, author and registered nurse who served in the Royal Australian Air Force and is a survivor of life-threatening trauma. Sharon reflected on the significance of Anzac Day and the importance of Phoenix Australia’s work supporting the mental health of veterans struggling with mental health issues associated with trauma, such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
There is renewal… there is life after trauma,” says Sharon.
Why do you think so many Australians of different generations continue to have such great respect for Anzac Day?
The service of Australians in war and on military operations spans multiple generations and includes all demographics of our population. As such, there are few if any Australians who are not connected in some way to our veterans and their families. I also believe that there is a growing recognition that the freedom and security enjoyed by Australians results from the defence of our nation, and a growing pride in Australia’s generosity in providing support to those in need through peacekeeping and disaster relief operations.
Why do you think it continues to be important to mark Anzac Day?
Anzac Day provides an opportunity for Australians to commemorate and pay their respects to all who have served Australia. Equally, it allows the men, women and families who have served, to understand the esteem in which they are held by others. Such a powerful expression of gratitude may assist veterans to begin to reconcile the sacrifices that they have made with the purpose of such sacrifice. Most importantly for me, a day of national remembrance should prompt us to learn and to reflect upon the traumatic consequences of war. Not only should this assist us to understand the needs of those who have suffered in war, but also the importance of working harder to prevent war in the future.
How do you mark Anzac Day?
As a Member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial since 2016, my most recent Anzac Days have centred around commemoration services at the Memorial. But, regardless of where I am, I always mark Anzac Day at a Dawn service. The soft light and silence of the early morning provides me with the most peaceful time of the day to reflect on my service and that of my family and friends. It is also when I remember the life, service and sacrifice of friends and family no longer with me. As the sun rises, I am reminded of the new day and the privileges that I enjoy as a result of the service and sacrifice of others.
Phoenix Australia was established in 1995 as the National Centre for War-Related PTSD, with the mission to improve the recognition and treatment of PTSD and related conditions within the veteran population. Though we now advocate for a wider range of demographics struggling with trauma-related mental illnesses, veterans are still at the forefront of our work. Why do you support the work of Phoenix Australia and choose to be our ambassador?
When I was first diagnosed with PTSD I approached it in much the same way as I did the rehabilitation required of my physical injuries. I was eager to understand its cause, its manifestation and the treatment options available for my “recovery”. I was told that there would be no recovery and that it was a condition with which I would have to learn to live. The veterans with whom I spoke about their own PTSD diagnoses, shared the same outlook. An outlook which for me equated to a life sentence.
Phoenix Australia provided me with the first team of clinicians and researchers who shared my belief that with evidence-informed treatment, there is life beyond trauma. They understood trauma, they acknowledged it and they were working tirelessly to ensure that all who experienced trauma could be provided with evidence-informed support, treatment and, where possible, prevention of conditions such as PTSD. Phoenix Australia confirmed that there was hope for my future beyond PTSD. I am passionate about advocating for the work of Phoenix Australia so that all Australians can begin to understand that posttraumatic mental health does not always result in PTSD and if it does, there is treatment and there is hope for a life beyond trauma.
What message would you share with practitioners, researchers and ex-service organisations about how and why they should use Phoenix Australia?
Phoenix Australia understands trauma and renews lives. They are the Australian centre of excellence for posttraumatic mental health and global leaders in treatment guidelines for PTSD. They provide an array of evidence-informed training and resources for healthcare providers, researchers, and veteran support organisations and evidence-informed advice to government for the prevention, support and treatment strategies related to posttraumatic mental health.