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New government initiative set to support veterans' mental health

The Australian government recently announced a new mental-health initiative."

The Department of Defence Ministers recently announced a support initiative to help make the transition into civilian life for veterans less challenging. As the defence ministry states that the government has a duty to support those who served their country, the measure is set to tackle mental health as well as employment challenges.

But what has caused this initiative and what are the current support options available to Australia's Defence Force (ADF) personnel?

A study found that 22 per cent of defence force members struggle with mental health issues.

Why the initiative is needed

In a 2010 study on mental health in the military, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry (RANZCP) states that 22 per cent of defence force members struggle with mental health issues. However, because of concerns about deployability, career opportunities and peer treatment, most of those affected don't report emotional stresses and mental disorders.

Professor Malcom Hopwood, RANZCP president, suggests that traumatic experiences during service can have a detrimental effect on veterans' mental health. Yet, the stigma surrounding mental illness means resources available aren't used to their full potential, and people suffer for prolonged periods of time before seeking help.

"Anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mood disorders, and suicidal thoughts are significantly higher among [Australian Defence Force] personnel compared to the rest of the Australian community; and, as a society, we must ensure that all appropriate medical services and treatment are made available," Hopwood said.

Alarmingly, the RANZCP study found that suicidality - including the thinking and attempting of suicide - is twice as high within the veteran population compared to Australia in general. Strategies to support the health and wellbeing of defence personnel and their families are therefore paramount to helping effectively.

Traumatic experiences can seriously impact mental health of veterans.Traumatic experiences can seriously impact veterans' mental health.

What options are currently in place

In 2013, the Department of Veterans' Affairs introduced a ten-year framework to improve the services offered. This plan - the Veteran Mental Health Strategy - is set up to improve access, delivery, support and screening of mental health issues. 

The strategy, which has $26 million allocated towards its action, is underpinned by the three principles of prevention, recovery and optimisation:

  1. Prevention focuses on preempting serious mental health problems and reducing the impact these could have on a person. Education, social connectivity and decreasing the stigma surrounding mental health issues are targeted in this step.
  2. Recovery, on the other hand, looks at making opportunities to find meaning and fulfilment in your life. It therefore emphasises strong interpersonal communication, coordination and goal oriented thinking. 
  3. Optimisation refers to using health to its full potential and obtaining peak levels of mental and physical fitness. Improving self-efficacy, social support and resilience is at the heart of this step of the strategy.
A ten-year framework focuses on prevention, recovery and optimisation.A ten-year plan focuses on prevention, recovery and optimisation.

What the new measure involves

In the August announcement, the government recognised the challenges of re-entering civilian life. In their recent announcement they further stated a commitment to review current services and introduce a suicide prevention program for ADF members, veterans and their families. 

In November, business leaders and veterans will be invited to the first Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Initiative in an effort to determine how skills can be leveraged in civilian environment. Not only this, the National Mental Health Commission will analyse current systems and processes to determine their effectiveness in suicide prevention. 

With a $192 million boost in funding for mental health challenges, the government hopes to improve accessibility of resources to those in need. The first community to see the efforts take place will be North Queensland, which has a large percentile of veterans living in the area. The trial will be part of 12 similar projects set to improve best-practises for mental health support. 

To assess how to improve current systems, the following will be analysed: 

  1. Communication methods: Recognising the way the community and military approach mental health and how military experiences can impact an individual. 
  2. Access barriers: Considering the relative ease of which those affected by illness can ask for and take advantage of support services. 
  3. Use of services: Observing how and where personnel make use of provided aid. 
  4. Range of services: Recording the variety of available support to veterans and their families. 
  5. Effectiveness of current systems: Indicating how well former service members and their families are supported and whether there is excess or under-allocation of help. 

According to the Parliament of Australia, the five factors will help make a connection between the suicide rates of the country overall versus the veteran population. This in turn - helped by a $52.4 investment towards research and free access to mental health treatments - will allow a better understanding of what exactly needs to change to improve mental health for ADF members and veterans. 

Interconnect Systems has a comprehensive background in aerospace and defence engineering, being an industry leader for more than 20 years. It provides electrical interconnect products and solutions, including cable and wire harness manufacture. For more information on the best backshells and cable harness solutions, contact Interconnect Systems today on 1800 812 214 FREE.

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