CDF response to Herald Sun article
15 March 2015
The Herald Sun article 'It's not about being in the military', published on 15 March 2015, highlights one of the many challenges we face in addressing mental health care for Australian Defence Force (ADF) members - too often the data is distorted or misrepresented.
Contrary to the Herald Sun report, the 'top brass', me included, are very serious about confronting the ADF's mental health issues head on and we are acutely aware of the number of serving members who have died by suicide.
Defence records show 106 ADF members are suspected to, or are confirmed to have, died by suicide since 01 January 2000. Of this number, 45 Defence members had previously deployed and 17 of these had one or more deployments to the Middle East Area of Operations. The Department of Veterans' Affairs is responsible for providing healthcare for ADF members once they discharge as well as collecting and recording data, including the number of former ADF members who have died by suicide.
DVA is also conducting research in association with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that will provide more accurate data on the number of suicides in the former ADF population and the prevalence of suicide compared to the general community since 1990.
Collectively, the ADF's senior leadership is engaged in efforts to fully understand all the elements and factors that impact on our people, their mental health and their families. Over the past six years, Defence has spent more than $140 million on mental health programs and added 91 new positions to our mental health workforce. We have also conducted extensive research into mental health issues, including PTSD.
The research data clearly illustrates that exposure to traumatic events causes PTSD. In many cases a person will experience a traumatic event or events on deployment or during their military service. For others, the traumatic event may be the result of an external factor such as a car accident or assault. Regardless of what causes someone to develop PTSD or any other mental health condition, and the ADF is committed to providing the best possible care to those members.
Despite our best efforts, we acknowledge we do not always get it right and I accept there are a number of former ADF personnel who feel that their treatment was not up to the standard they expect. Their honest, open feedback is important to help us better understand mental health issues so that we can continue to improve the services we provide to those who seek help.
Mental health conditions such as PTSD can be successfully treated. Early identification, diagnosis and intervention by trained mental health professionals provide the best outcome for those dealing with mental illness. There are numerous of examples of people who have been treated for PTSD, successfully recovered and ultimately returned to normal duties. Sharing their stories too will go a long way to helping break down the stigma associated with PTSD and show others that it is okay to ask for help.
M.D. BINSKIN, AC
Air Chief Marshal
Chief of the Defence Force