Townsville Bulletin

Fires and virus add to ADF’S trauma burden


WAR, bushfires and pestilence have hammered our armed forces, with more than 1400 Australian Defence Force members showing suicidal “ideation” and 84 presenting to clinicians after an attempt, a sobering Defence report reveals.

Despite 24/7 counsellin­g and support access and last year deploying more than 400 mental health education and awareness programs, including specifical­ly for those on Operation Covid-19 Assist duty, stress and harm rates – particular­ly by those aged in their 20s – were increasing.

In its detailed “background paper” submission to the Defence and Veteran Suicide Royal Commission, Defence concedes the “learning journey” continues and appeals to members to engage with the inquiry.

Most of those 1439 with suicidal ideation who presented to clinics between July 2019 and June 2021 were males aged 18 to 29. Many of them had “exposure to trauma” before signing up to ADF.

Defence conceded suicide rates for ex-service personnel, male and female, was higher than serving members and higher than rates in the general Australian population.

Suicidal behaviour was higher in the Royal Australian Navy than the other services but Army had the highest rate of suicidal ideation.

Defence said personnel “sacrificed many freedoms” to serve, faced risks whether on battlefiel­ds or fighting fires or Covid-19, and submitted to laws and systems the general community did not.

“The burden of military service is also shared by the families of ADF members.

Family moves are regular, sometimes seemingly random and frequently stressful. Partners’ careers may be interrupte­d with a commensura­te loss of income, with impacts on childcare and schooling,” the report says.

It cites a 2015 report that found upon entering the ADF only one-third of personnel reported no prior trauma exposure, while about 75 per cent of General Entry and 65 per cent of Officers entered training with at least one potentiall­y traumatic event.

“Many ADF members who experience moderate mental health symptoms while serving, can go on to develop more severe conditions when leaving service. For example, 28 per cent of former ADF members with a probable mental health condition had experience­d moderate mental health symptoms while still serving,” it concluded. Open Arms counsellin­g, treatment, suicide prevention training: 1800 011 046 ADF Support Line for members and their families: 1800 628 036 Lifeline Australia crisis support and suicide prevention help: 131 114

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