The pain that Australia’s most decorated living soldier felt as he and his wife tried for more than six years to have children on IVF has driven him to lend his support to a national campaign to help sufferers of depression.
Back from operations in Afghanistan, Ben Roberts-Smith – holder of the Victoria Cross and the Medal for Gallantry – has been persuaded by wife Emma to become the ambassador for the White Cloud Foundation, set up by a doctor, Adam Scott, to deal with heart disease and depression.
Dr Scott said mild depression could double the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and heart attack and of dying from them. “Severe depression has an even more profound effect – with up to five times the rate of cardiovascular disease as compared to non-depressed people,” he said.
Corporal Roberts-Smith – the father of twin girls Eve and Elizabeth – said he’d served his country for 17 years as a soldier.
“Obviously PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a big concern for Defence,” he said.
“When I realised the scale of the battle we face against depression at home I really wanted to get involved. I thought that’s how I can serve rather than just being at the end of a rifle.”
Corporal Roberts-Smith recalled the couple’s struggle to have children.
“The biggest thing for me was probably going through 6 1/2 years of IVF with my wife. That certainly had a number of highs and lows.
“There are points there when you think it’s hopeless. It’s a big financial burden and a huge emotional burden.
“No doubt we probably did suffer a form of depression at times during that period. But we had each other and we were around other couples who were suffering through the same issues.”
He said White Cloud aims to create treatment centres nationwide so people with depression can access “early support and the resources aimed at rehabilitating and regenerating patients”.
A million Australians suffer depression every year.
Corporal Roberts-Smith said it had been very important for him to return to Afghanistan. “I just wanted to make sure I could reaffirm to the community my desire to serve was still very strong.”
As first appeared in The Australian, 3 December 2012