"It felt like I’d lost everything when I left. My friends, my job, all the stuff I enjoyed doing and believed in. I got really low.”
There is some debate at academic levels as to whether Adjustment Disorder is mental illness or simply medicalising a normal life experience. At Surf Action we don’t concern ourselves too much with this but simply acknowledge the easily observable fact that when any significant change occurs in a persons’ life it has the potential, if it leads to basic emotional or physical needs going unmet, to lead to increased stress levels and intense distress. Such a change can sometimes occur when an individual leaves the forces and sometimes following a trauma, be that trauma physical or psychological. Members of our team have first-hand experience of these difficulties.
Physical trauma: At Surf Action we work to help with the rehabilitation of veterans suffering from physical injury. Alongside other established centres of excellence for this purpose. Surf Action offers support when the physical healing is underway and the process of adjustment to their new situation begins. Within our team, we have built a wealth of expertise and knowledge around working in the ocean and beach environments, many of them double or triple amputees.
What are the symptoms?
Adjustment Disorder is defined as being “When an individual develops psychiatric symptoms in the course of adjusting to new circumstances”.
These symptoms can include:
Psychological symptoms: These include depression, anxiety, worry, poor concentration and irritability.
Physical symptoms: These include palpitations, rapid breathing, diarrhoea and tremors.
Behavioural disturbances: These can consist of aggression, deliberate self-harm, abuse of alcohol, drug misuse, social difficulties, and occupational problems.
How Do We Help?
We begin by getting a clear picture of precisely what areas of a person's life have been affected by any change that has occurred. To facilitate this we use the Surf Action Wheel of Life. Often, on leaving the forces, a person will have left behind not only a career that gave them their sense of status and competence, but also a community of which they were an integral part, not to mention close friendships forged in difficult circumstances. On sustaining serious physical or psychological injury an individual might experience similar losses, be struggling to maintain their close relationships and also be coping with the difficulties of day to day life on top of this.
We then, in keeping with the recovery model from which we all work, help them to begin to work with this understanding to move forward. This includes empowering them to use self-help and coping strategies and supporting them in whatever way is necessary to rebuild areas of their lives that have been negatively affected by change; not looking back to the impossibility of replicating how things were before but forward to ways suited to their current situation.
Sometimes, however, this re-building begins even before we are able to have a formal conversation about it. One of the things that almost all our veterans identify as missing in their lives is the comradeship and sense of belonging that they felt in the armed forces. Simply by coming in through our door and meeting with the team and other veterans many say that they regain a sense of this.
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