“Not all wounds bleed” has real meaning for Major Ian Piercy of the 2/4 Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment.
The slogan was part of the RSA’s Poppy Appeal this year, highlighting the mental health injuries New Zealand servicemen and women have suffered.
“When you stop and think about it, that is just such a perfect way of describing mental illness and psychological issues, ” Maj Piercy said.
In 2006 he was in Lebanon as a United Nations military observer during the 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel, Maj Piercy said.
After returning to New Zealand it was “a good six months” before he stopped having nightmares.
During the conflict, Israel bombed a UN base in southern Lebanon, killing four peacekeepers.
“My friends, my colleagues, they were killed in the base,” Maj Piercy said.
“Of course, UN military observers were unarmed, so we had no way of defending ourselves.
“We had the Israelis on one side and we had the Hezbollah on the other side, and they were fighting among themselves, but we were in the middle of it all.”
After the ceasefire, he was asked to help assess the battle damage.
“That’s when I was exposed to a lot of stuff that you just don’t want to see – bodies coming out of collapsed buildings, vehicles on the side of the road with a whole family inside where a tank round had gone through the vehicle and killed everybody inside.
“I had to go and look at allegations of Hezbollah soldiers being wounded, dragged out on the road, having fuel poured on to them and then burnt alive by the Israeli soldiers.
“It was pretty eye-opening, so returning after that sort of exposure back to New Zealand, it would have taken me a good six months before I stopped having nightmares,” Maj Piercy said.
Settling back into daily life in New Zealand was difficult, and one of the ways that helped him was being able to talk about it, he said.
“There’s no weakness in putting your hand up and saying “hey look, I’m struggling”, and this is something that we need to get across to young returned service people.
“It doesn’t mean that you’re weak, or somebody’s going to point a finger at you and say ‘oh look, you’re a big blubber, what are you moaning for, just take it on the chin’.
“We are actively out there seeking these people out, saying ‘hey look, it’s OK to say you need help’. It’s OK to put your hand up and say ‘look, I’m struggling with these things, I’m struggling with my relationship with my wife, with my kids, with my girlfriend, with my civilian employment’.”
The RSA organisation throughout New Zealand was a very good source of help and support, Maj Piercy said.
“The defence force itself is very well geared up for helping people. It’s just trying to identify those people.
“It’s a very normal and human reaction after being put in such a stressful situation, to have issues that you need to sort.
“When we get shot we put a patch on it and we stop bleeding,” Maj Piercy said.
But with mental health, “that one wound can continue to manifest itself years later”.
Where to get help in NZ
Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association (04) 384-7994
Healthline: 0800 611-116
Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800 543-354
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828-865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Samaritans: 0800 726-666
Alcohol Drug Helpline: 0800 787-797
General mental health inquiries: 0800 44-33-66
The Depression Helpline: 0800 111-757
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