In November 2016, Blackmores Institute launched a pilot program seeking to assist returned soldiers who have been traumatised by the experience of war. The aim of the Blackmores Wellness program was to introduce the concepts of wellness according to naturopathic principles, and to provide simple strategies to help achieve an improved sense of wellbeing.
The Blackmores Institute at Warriewood campus partnered with the local branch of Homes for Heroes at Collaroy, in New South Wales. Homes for Heroes are the arm of the Returned Soldiers League (RSL) that seeks to provide housing and rehabilitation for returned soldiers at risk. Statistics indicate that on any given night, approximately 3000 returned soldiers might be sleeping on the street as a result of the trauma experienced during their time spent in combat.
Statistics around veteran suicide are also tragic and confronting, as suicide has now claimed more Australian soldiers’ lives than any war since 1999. The wounds sustained during war are complex in both their physical and psychological manifestations. In addition, the gruelling process of becoming a soldier equipped for battle seems equalled by the deeply challenging transition of returning to normal civilian life and recovering one’s identity - particularly if deemed unfit to serve.
The Blackmores Wellness program covered topics such as the effect of diet on mood, the importance of movement, the benefit of positive relationships and community, as well as strategies for goal setting.
Naturopaths Leanne McLean and Rebekah Russell volunteered to write and facilitate the program that was designed to run for 8 weeks – a time frame estimated to be long enough to start developing healthy habits. Each session was broken into 2 parts: the first part was dedicated to an introduction of the topic with discussion, while the second part involved practicing mindfulness meditation.
This initiative was inspired by Professor Lesley Braun who, on attending the 2016 International Congress for Complementary & Integrative Medicine Research in the USA, was astounded at the broad range of complementary therapies and programs made available for veterans not only in America but in a large number of NATO countries. Such programs are not currently available in Australia.
Furthermore, there is a growing body of evidence emerging on the benefit of complementary therapies for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain management, conditions all too common amongst returned soldiers.
The Wellness pilot program is now near completion and has been met with enthusiasm by the ex-service men and women as well as their supervisors (who were also active participants in the program). The Executive Manager of Homes for Heroes, Adrian Talbot regarded the program as a success, primarily due to the repeated attendance of the participants as well as from feedback received and positive changes observed within the group.
The Blackmore’s Wellness program may continue to be run at the request of Homes for Heroes, and the hope is that similar programs might be reproduced Australia-wide to help benefit these men and women who have lost so much in the service of this country.