SPA CEO on Review into Suicide and Self Harm Prevention Services for ADF members and their families

30 March 2017

Many thanks to our National Mental Health Commission (NMHC) colleagues for their work in  submitting  the ‘Review into the Suicide and Self-Harm Prevention Services Available to current and former serving ADF members and their families’ to the Government this week.

Veterans have long been a valued part of Australia’s community. They are respected and honoured for the contributions they make to our country and are deserving of the best quality of care and support that the Australian community can offer. I am pleased to see the depth of listening and consideration shown in the NHMC findings as it is primarily through the voices of those with personal experience that we can learn how to best support this population, in and out of service.

The Review findings, in the most part, verify my discussions with members of our Lived Experience Network who are former Defence personnel, particularly in relation to their transition experiences when moving from being in service to being civilians.

One of these conversations that has stayed with me for many months is from an ex-serviceman who asked me how we could get business to take a more active role in transition into community.

Suicide Prevention Australia and its Members have contributed to a range of reviews into the health and wellbeing of our defence personnel and their families. We await the outcomes of the Senate Inquiry into Suicide by Veterans and Ex Service Personnel and expect those findings to be reviewed in line with the report released this week.

Suicide Prevention Australia and its Members will continue to work with ADF, DVA and the National Mental Health Commission to ensure these voices continue to be heard and appropriate action is taken in relation to implementation of suggested improvements. In particular, ensuring this group’s needs are highlighted in consultations to inform the national suicide prevention plan.

Some of the key points from the report that resonated with me include:

  • There are several improvements that have been made during the review period but it is only through effective monitoring and continuous evaluation that we can be sure that is having a positive impact over time. SPA would expect this to be fed into wider suicide prevention accountability frameworks such as the National Office for Suicide Prevention (as noted in 2016 SPA Federal Election Manifesto)
  • Former ADF members under 30 had been identified in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) study Estimation of incidence of suicide in ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel as a group with a suicide rate above the national average.
  • The importance of family support services, and the recognition of the diversity of family structures in the ADF
  • Strengthening training on mental health awareness and suicide prevention, as well as leadership training and ongoing cultural change to eradicate the stigma of mental illness and remove barriers to help seeking behaviour  
  • Need for Department of Defence and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to continue to work together to address issues raised in the review and look at how they could work more closely together. Read the Department of Defence media comment on Review release
  • The need for more accessible, timely and quality data is evident, something we know needs to improve across the board in suicide prevention
  • We need to better understand and make links with State and Federal programs outside of Defence through Primary Health Networks and regional health and social services.

Also, this week, Minster Hunt announcement that retired 3-star general, Lieutenant General John Caligari, will lead the Veterans Suicide Prevention Project Steering committee and The Turnbull Government will provide $3 million over three years to the northern Queensland PHN to conduct the trial and commission services. This includes the suicide prevention trial site in the Townsville region which, Minister Hunt stated, will have a strong focus on support for ex-ADF personnel, in particular for the under-30 age group.

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Support information: All serving ADF members can access mental health services through their on base health facilities. Defence and the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) also offer 24/7 specialist support to current and former ADF members and their families. The ADF All-Hours Support Line is available on 1800 628 036 and VVCS is available on 1800 011 046.