Extreme Violence

Australian commando shares what led to his breakdown to shine light on lack of PTSD support for young veterans

Purple Poppies website is here https://www.purplepoppies.com.au/

Now you know from this article why I passionately believe in the ideals of Purple Poppies. We take on the filthiest most vile actions possible, its not losing our lives that is the real issue – that we can handle. It is surviving and our sanity that is the painful part. Yes, many suicide. Nobody is willing to help us, we have to help ourselves.

All Commando’s suffer this to a certain extent – we know what is in our heads. The worst part is we get treated like shit by the rest of the community at large.

This is a picture of my beret

Man sits in military uniform with white sand trench with helmet and gun at knee.
Andy Fermo survived an IED attack during his second tour of Afghanistan.(Supplied: Andy Fermo)

When former Special Forces commando Andy Fermo found himself crying hysterically in a furniture shop in Sydney he knew it was time to seek help.

The elite soldier had been medically discharged from the military just three months earlier over concerns about his mental health.

“It got to the point where I still wanted to be doing my job but didn’t want to commit career suicide to say anything was wrong,” he said.

Mr Fermo had completed two tours of the Middle East, but just a week into his second deployment he and his comrades were blown up by a roadside improvised explosive device (IED).

“I was fortunate enough that I was in a manhole so my head didn’t get blown up,” he said.

“There were multiple casualties and a few traumatic brain injuries.”

While the former commando felt lucky to escape physical injury, Mr Fermo said his fast-paced job meant he did not have time to mentally process what had happened.

“When I was on operations, it was something I pushed down really deep, because we were so focused on the job,” he said.

young man sits in army tank with goggles and green hat and headphones on.
Andy Fermo hopes his story will inspire others to reach out for help.(Supplied: Andy Fermo)

After being medically discharged, Mr Fermo did what he could to adjust to life outside the military.

Hearing news on the radio of a helicopter crash involving three friends sent him over the edge.

“All of them I had served with at some stage, so I knew them personally — it wasn’t as if it was just an acquaintance,” he said.

“It was a shock — it really hit home hard.

“I was in the shop and I just broke down crying, and all of a sudden everything just seemed really small. I had to get out of there.”

That was the moment the veteran realized he might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Mr Fenmo lives on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

The region has the fastest growing population of young retired service men and women in the country but, despite the growing need, there is only one Department of Veteran Affairs-approved PTSD therapy program between Brisbane and Townsville, a distance of 1,330 kilometres.

‘Huge need in community’

Berquin Human heads up the program, which is focused on assisting veterans and first responders.

He said Australia had more than 600,000 veterans, with about 20,000 living in the Sunshine Coast region alone, and a significant percentage would be suffering from PTSD.

“There is a huge need in the community and there is not a lot of available treatment programs out there,” Dr Human said.

He said there was a greater need for more PTSD support programs across the country.

Dr Human said while it was a treatable mental health condition, tragically by the time many veterans and first responders sought help it was too late.

“One of the biggest risk factors for suicide is social disconnection — and a lot of veterans, first responders and even civilians [suffer] as well with PTSD,” he said.

“They suffer in silence.”

Man with dark hair stands with hands behind his back and glasses on his head.
Berquin Human is the coordinator of the only PTSD therapy program on the Sunshine Coast.(ABC News: Sally Rafferty)

Ten years on from his breakdown, Mr Fermo is using his experience to help encourage others to seek help and to offer much-needed support.

He created his own foundation, called Invisible Injuries, to help raise awareness about PTSD, and uses a podcast to help give a voice to people who struggle to find their own.

“I started it around the same time a couple of blokes I knew had suicided,” Mr Fermo said.

“I thought it was really important to share my story and that of my peers.

“I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I just need to be able to help navigate people to the right spot.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-27/ptsd-veterans-support-services-mental-health-suicide/12393092

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