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Mental health should always be a priority
Mick Bainbridge, brother of FDC Development Manager, Tim Bainbridge, suffered PTSD and physical injuries as a former Special Forces Green Beret Commando. After seeking treatment, and finding a new career path; he has a renewed sense of what it means to be healthy.
As a kid, I had always had a fascination with the military. My family has a strong history of service and I always thought that I would join, even at a young age. I had actually joined before leaving school, so when I finished, I was put on a bus to recruit training and that was the start of my first full time job. After some time, I successfully completed the Special Forces selection and went on to become a qualified Green Beret in the Australian Special Forces.
The job was extremely demanding and required 100% commitment at all times. Even though this level of commitment and operational tempo meant that I missed many family events throughout my twenties and thirties, I still loved the nature of the job. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with and alongside some of the most highly trained and skilled members of our military. During my time at the 2nd Commando Regiment I completed five operational deployments – four of which were in Afghanistan.
Looking back, it was a very strange job. When on overseas deployment, it can be extremely confronting. We were dealing with death and the loss of our mates on an ongoing basis. There was always an expectation that when we would go out on a job, it was highly likely that one or more of us would not return. We would even write ‘dead letters’ as a final goodbye for our families, which would be left with our gear when we were ‘outside the wire’ on a mission. The very nature of our job meant we were at times, a little untethered. We used dark humour to cope with many of the issues we were faced with.
WAGING AN INNER WAR
It all started unravelling for me after 2009, when a close friend of mine, Mason Edwards was shot and killed during pre-deployment training. All our training was conducted with live ammunition, in very close quarters. I remember working on him with other mates, trying to save him but there really nothing we could do. A few months later, I was back in Afghanistan and living with a local war lord in Southern Afghanistan, helping to protect him and train his men. It was then in 2010 that I was at the Black Hawk helicopter crash in Afghanistan. We lost three of our blokes and one American in that accident, and there were a lot of other blokes that suffered significant injuries. Amazingly, although their injuries were horrific, they have all made inspirational recoveries.
At that point I said to Defence, “I want to go into a training role for a bit. I’m feeling fairly emotionally numb to everything going on around me; and I need some help.” Unfortunately, it was not received too well at the time by the command who made it difficult to navigate. As I was suffering from both PTSD and physical injuries; I was given no choice but to leave. Fortunately, I was grateful that Defence eventually did assist me with a study program that helped me to transition out of the military.
While having mates to support you is a good start in any event, the key to successfully dealing with mental health injuries is having the right team of professionals around you. It may take some time to find the right fit, but if you have a good psychologist or psychiatrist, they can help you to better understand your injury and how to deal with it in the long term. This is the approach that will set you up for success and long-term happiness. There are also some great resources out there that support veterans, called Ex-Service Organisations, or ESOs, but it comes down to what suits the individual and what assistance the ESO can provide them during their transition journey.
I never liked the term ‘mental illness’ and I felt that it wasn’t reflective to my position. I made a point of referring to it as a mental health injury, or more commonly known in the veteran community as Operational Stress Injury (OSI). This helped me give a more suitable name to what I was facing. It was short term and I knew that I could fix it, recover and get on with my life. Like a broken arm, I would go to the Doctor and get a cast. Once I found the right psychologist that I was comfortable with, I was able to start understanding the injury and what I could do to overcome it. I am certainly stronger for it now. I believe that mental health is something that everyone should address consistently throughout their entire life, a little bit like servicing your car, you have to stay on top of it and have a check up every now and then. I am very open about my injury and how I approached it, in the hope that it helps other people step up and do something about it for themselves. There is every reason to actively lean into it because we all deserve to be happy.
FORGING A NEW PATH
Coming out of the Defence Force, I battled with three things. The first was that I’d lost my career because of my injuries. The second was having to deal with those injuries – both physical and mental, which was a significant journey itself. The third was the feeling that I had lost my sense of identity.
One of the worst things to do when you’re suffering from a mental health injury is to stay at home and do nothing for a long period of time. It is really healthy to get outside, learn something new, study, find a mentor or pick up a new hobby.
I felt the need to immerse myself in something completely different to the life and work I’d known. I’ve always been interested in the law and its application, especially as in my previous career I’d been in countries where the law had failed. I completed my law and commerce degree and I am now a Solicitor and Director at Operational Legal Australia, a veteran owned and operated law firm, engaged by FDC.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO REACH OUT
People often say to me, “I’m suffering this mental health issue, but I can’t compare it to what you’ve been through.” I always say – “There’s no comparison. Once you’re at that point of injury, you have to look at it exactly the same way. It doesn’t matter how you get there.” It might be the result of a marriage breakdown, an ill family member, or general stresses from work. All these things can build up and have a detrimental effect on you, or the people around you, including the people you love.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you trust and talk to them about how you’re feeling. Don’t internalise it. As deep and as dark as you can get, you should remember that the people around you want to help.
My own journey has given me a renewed perspective; it’s helped me identify things in people that I probably wouldn’t have noticed or recognised before. It has given me the insight to understand what others are going through and to be able reach out to them when they need it. The positive side to dealing with mental health in a heathy and engaged way can also have great benefits in terms of personal growth, which will help you better manage ongoing stressors later in life.
Mental health is a living, breathing thing. It ebbs and flows throughout our lives and we continually have to address it. The key is to find out who you are, listen to how you feel and identify what stresses you out, so you can stay on top of it. Get outside, talk to your friends, immerse yourself in things you enjoy, get enough exercise and maintain an open mind. It may sound simple, but these are important things that can help us live a healthy, happy, and balanced life.