Tri-service flags flew over the highest point in Australia recently to raise awareness of conditions related to post-traumatic stress.
About 70 staff and trainees of the Air Force School of Technical Training in Wagga Wagga climbed from Thredbo to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko.
The event titled 'Stomp the summit, crush the stigma' involved Navy, Army and Air Force personnel who climbed alongside co-workers, friends and families to show solidarity and combat the stigma surrounding mental health disorders.
The climb was inspired by Corporal Andrew Summers, an Iraq war veteran who has campaigned to raise awareness after suffering through his own battles.
Corporal Summers said he struggled with nightmares, anxiety attacks, feelings of shame, guilt and feeling alone after deploying to the Middle East in 2008.
“In 2012 I attempted to take my own life and sought help after being diagnosed with PTSD,” he said.
“Since then I’ve made it my mission to raise awareness of PTSD and encourage others to seek help and crush the stigma.”
In 2014, Corporal Summers completed a 40 kilometre pack march on Manly Beach and in 2015 he marched from Sydney to Newcastle over five days in an effort to raise awareness and help others.
Many of the supporters for the Mount Kosciuszko climb travelled from interstate to join the team and wore symbolic bright red shirts.
The red shirts, mixed with the large body of troops in uniform moving up the mountain, signified the body cannot function without the support of blood pumping through it, just as someone suffering mental health issues cannot function without the support of family or friends.
Corporal Summers said he hopes the event will become an annual activity.
“For those of us who suffer mental health issues such as PTSD, it’s like facing a mountain we need to overcome,” he said.
Commanding Officer of the School, Wing Commander Dean Collins said the climb was an important reminder of the battle many members face.
“The estimated prevalence of PTSD in Defence members is about 8.3 per cent, with 50 per cent of those receiving treatment in the past 12 months,” he said.
“Defence has implemented many health initiatives to reduce stigma and increase awareness of PTSD and other mental health conditions, but it’s events such as this that have a special opportunity to impact lives and make a difference.”
He said it was important for members experiencing mental health issues to seek help early.