24 April 2015

On the eve of ANZAC Day, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the pain and suffering of our servicemen and women and their families who have been touched by suicide. We would also like to recognise all of those in the community working to better the health and wellbeing of our defence personnel. We don’t often take the time to say thank you, not only to our service men and women, but their families, communities and support systems – so thank you!

Last month we were pleased to see the mental health of Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel who have returned from combat, peacekeeping or other deployment referred to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and report. Submissions to this inquiry are now open, closing on 26 June 2015. I urge you to visit the Senate Committee website, read what is expected of the review and make a submission if relevant. We can all play a part in improving the mental health support, evaluation and counselling services provided by Defence and DVA, and review of the identification and disclosure policies of the ADF in relation to mental ill-health and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

As we think on those in service and issues like suicide and PTSD, I would like to leave you with some thoughts on PTSD from SPA Lived Experience Network Leadership Group member and decorated police officer and, Allan Sparkes.

“I may not know what it’s like to serve in our defence forces but I know what it’s like to be repeatedly exposed to trauma in my day job and how PTSD devastates both the individual and their loved ones.

I developed both of those mental illnesses as a result of my 20 years in the police force being constantly exposed to horror and trauma, to the extreme levels of adrenalin surges and cortisol and hormonal imbalance and the like, sleep deprivation and all those things. This culminated in a complete and total psychological breakdown and becoming suicidal.

That then ended up causing me the loss of my police career. I was discharged by the police force after a decision was made that I was not capable of continuing as a police officer because of the psychological problems. Another devastating repercussion on my life.

That was many years ago now. The life I’ve been able to lead since then and the things that I’ve been able to achieve allows me to use my experience in a positive way to enable people to look at things in a far more hopeful way of recovery. I now do a lot of work with emergency services/first responders and defence personnel support organisations. This ranges from regular suicide prevention training to supporting health and wellbeing activities.

We have to tell more stories of people who have got through this, more stories from the family and friends who have been there to help and support them. We need to give people a hope that they can recover; give them something to strive for and goals to aim for.”

Our thoughts are with servicemen and women being recognised this weekend.

Take care.
Sue Murray