VETERAN SUICIDE STATISTICS HIGHLIGHT NEED FOR TARGETED SUPPORT

On 29 September 2021, The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released its fourth annual report on suicide among permanent, reserve, and ex-serving ADF members, including numbers of suicide deaths between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2019 and rates of suicide from 1 January 2002 to 31 December 2019.

The findings of the report support previous discoveries whereby ex-serving male and female personnel are shown to have a significantly increased risk of suicide when compared to that of the Australian public. The report also provided valuable insights into suicide rates within specific groups.

Soldier On CEO, Ivan Slavich, said the report sheds a light on those groups who are in need of greater support.

“Every suicide is a horrific tragedy. Every statistic included in this report is a human life. These are our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and our mates,” Mr Slavich said.

“The conclusions drawn from this report will allow Soldier On to better understand the needs of the veteran community and we will be targeting our programs to address the needs of those groups which have been identified as most vulnerable, providing greater support where it is needed most,”

“Among many others, It is clear that those individuals who have separated from service involuntarily are at a significantly higher risk than those who separated voluntarily. This tells us that greater support is needed for those individuals whose transition was not of their own choosing, many of whom may not be prepared for such a significant change,” Mr Slavich added.

Findings of the report also indicate that personnel who have served for a shorter period of time are at a higher risk of suicide. This may be an indication that greater support is needed for our ADF personnel in the early stages of their military career. This may be further supported with statistics showing that our younger veterans are at a greater risk of suicide.

The expansion of this study to incorporate those who had served from 1985 to 2001 is also a welcomed inclusion and acknowledges the lasting impact that service can have on members of the veteran community. In some instances, individuals can experience significant impacts long after their service has ended.

Soldier On hopes that the findings of the report will inform the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide on the shortfalls of current practices and the specific areas that are in dire need of change.

Soldier On intends to be an active participant in the Royal Commission and has established a working group to achieve this. Supporting thousands of veterans and their family members, Soldier On will work closely with its participants to continue to inform the Royal Commission and National Commissioner of the needs of our veteran community now and into the future.

Soldier On strongly encourages its participants to make a submission to the Royal Commission and share your experiences with those who will be leading this inquisition. For those who may not be comfortable submitting their views directly to the Royal Commission, Soldier On will be speaking with its participants to represent their views and experiences within its own submission.

In the meantime, Soldier On continues to advocate for a Veteran Wellbeing Centre in the ACT to accommodate the large number of service personnel and contemporary veterans in the region. Soldier On is currently engaging in discussions with stakeholders, government representatives and other Ex-Service Organisations to advance the delivery of support services across the ACT, as well as other locations across the country.

Solder On Chairman Peter Leahy Addresses Sky News Regarding Returned Afghanistan Veterans

“Many of our veterans who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq have already suffered psychological damages. We know that there are instances of PTSD, we know that there are instances of suicide is far too high. There are people who are inherently vulnerable to these developments right now. There will also be soldiers, sailors and aviators out there who will be experience shock and confusion over the developments. I get a sense of loss. A sense of loss for might have been in Afghanistan, a sense of loss for those who have been killed, wounded and psychologically damaged. For those who are bothered by what is happening, don’t do anything rash, seek out help from the many resources available to you. Soldier On is here to help.”- Peter Leahy, Soldier On Chairman

Soldier On provides ongoing support, however, we do not deliver crisis support. If you are in a crisis, please contact one of the following organisations:

LIFELINE

13 11 14

24 hours, 7 days a week

BEYOND BLUE

1300 224 636

24 hours, 7 days a week

OPEN ARMS

1800 011 046

24 hours, 7 days a week

EMERGENCY

000

24 hours, 7 days a week

Supporting South Australian Veterans and Their Families

Veterans and their families are set to benefit from the new Repat Veteran Wellbeing Centre opening within the Daw Park Repatriation Health Precinct, bringing together ex-service community services and government support for health and wellbeing into one hub.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester said the Repat Veteran Wellbeing Centre is a welcome addition to the world-class system of support we have in Australia for veterans and their families.

“The Veteran Wellbeing Centre, located within the Repatriation Health Precinct, will bring together a range of services, including support from Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling, Plympton Veterans Centre, RSL South Australia and Soldier On,” Mr Chester said.

“These organisations are experienced in delivering high-quality support for the ex-service community and share the Australian Government’s objective to provide a stable support system that is easy to access and delivers the services they need.

“As a nation we can always improve on the support provided to veterans and their families and this centre is a fantastic example of the Federal and South Australian Governments working together with the ex-service community to improve their health and wellbeing, and provide individualised services based on their needs.”

The Repat Veteran Wellbeing Centre is the second centre to open as part of the $30 million commitment made by the Federal Government to develop a network of six Veteran Wellbeing Centres across Australia, which the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is delivering in partnership with ex-service organisations and State and Territory governments.

South Australian Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade said the development of the Repat Veteran Wellbeing Centre, in partnership with the Commonwealth Government, represents a new chapter in the provision of support and access to services for veterans and their families in South Australia.

“The Marshall Liberal Government is committed to veterans and their families and the opening of the Repat Veteran Wellbeing Centre will provide a safe and welcoming environment in which veterans and their families can access services and feel confident in seeking the support they need to improve their health and wellbeing,” said Minister Wade.

The centre will focus on delivering wellbeing services to assist veterans and their families to transition successfully to civilian life.

The centre will offer services to support health and wellbeing, advocacy, education, skills and employment, and housing and accommodation support.

Member for Boothby Nicolle Flint MP the Veteran Wellbeing Centre is a key feature of the new Repat Precinct and has only come about because of the tireless efforts of our veterans who campaigned to put a stop to the closure of the Repat.

“It is so important that our veterans and their families have a dedicated place where they can go to connect with one another and to also access the assistance they need,” Ms Flint said.

“The reactivated Repat is in the heart of my local community and I worked hard to see the Federal and State Governments join forces to redevelop this important health precinct, including to return a veterans presence to the Repat.”

Veteran Wellbeing Centre and services will be launched and available to veterans and their families from 1 June 2021.

Soldier On’s Partnerships and Grants Director, Prue Slaughter said Soldier On welcomes the centre and the opportunities it will bring for the veteran community.  

“The Repat Wellness Centre will be a welcome addition to the local veteran community. It is through projects like this that we are able to provide our ex-serving community with the vital support services that enable them to thrive,” Prue said.

Heavy Metal, Movement, and Community: Veterans in the Mosh Pit

The link between positive mental health and heavy metal is closer than popular culture may portray.  The sense of being part of a community, collective movement – such as ‘headbanging’ and ‘moshing’- and the music itself, have been shown to provide numerous mental health benefits. 

We live in a time when one out of four Australian adults feel lonely, and nearly 30% of Australian adults feel they rarely or never feel part of a community or group of friends. [1] Having a sense of belonging is becoming increasingly important for mental health.  A 2018 study showed that heavy metal identity helped metalheads endure stress and challenging environments and build strong, lasting relationships with other fans –helping alleviate potential mental health issues. [2] 

Soldier On reached out to veteran metalheads to hear what they had to say about metal, mental health, and community. Michael, a Navy veteran, felt that the heavy metal community are very warm and inviting.  “There’s a lot of passion in people when they go to a metal show – you’re there to see the musicians perform their art, and to enjoy yourself.  My experience has been it can be pretty easy to strike up a conversation and meet people at shows,” Michael said. Roark, a currently serving Navy officer had this to say, “I absolutely feel an immediate connection with someone at a party or gathering if they are [into metal].  I know we’ll have something to talk about and have similar life experiences.” 

The acts of headbanging, moshing, and other physical movements while at metal concerts, have also shown to support positive mental health.  A 2016 study showed participation in a mosh pit or engaging in headbanging can provide an avenue where negative emotions can be discharged within an environment where aggression is contained and organized.  The study went on to note how the ritualized nature of headbanging and moshing provides a cathartic effect for fans and reduces feelings of shame and isolation. [3]

According to Kelly McGonigal, author of “The Joy of Movement”, the brain responds to music by releasing adrenaline, dopamine, and endorphins which energize the body and alleviate pain. Participating in live music and engaging in the group movements, such as the mosh pit, helps foster a sense of belonging and further facilitates the release of endorphins. [4]

Heavy metal’s mental health benefits were demonstrated in a 2015 University of Queensland study.  The study of 39 adults between the ages of 18 and 34 revealed the participants felt heavy metal was helpful in regulating feelings of sadness while enhancing positive emotions.  The study also showed the participants’ levels of hostility, irritability and stress decreased after listening to heavy metal or extreme music.[5] 

Neurologist Oliver Sacks said, “music is part of being human” and the heavy metal community is full of fans waiting to welcome you into the pit. 


[1] (2018, November 11). AUSTRALIAN LONELINESS REPORT. Retrieved from https://psychweek.org.au/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Psychology-Week-2018-Australian-Loneliness-Report-1.pdf

[2] Cansdale, D. (2018, February 19). How heavy metal and head banging can help soothe your soul. Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-19/heavy-metal-helps-soothe-the-soul/9450576

[3] Baker, C., Brown, B. Suicide, Self-Harm and Survival Strategies in Contemporary Heavy Metal Music: A Cultural and Literary Analysis. J Med Humanit 37, 1–17 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10912-014-9274-8

[4] MCGONIGAL, K. (2021). JOY OF MOVEMENT: How exercise helps us find happiness, hope, connection, and courage. S.l.: AVERY PUB GROUP.

[5] Watson, M. (2015, June 25). Heavy metal combats depression, anger: Study. Retrieved March 01, 2021, from

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-25/study-finds-heavy-metal-reduces-anger-depression/6571820

Supporting our Veterans journey from military to civilian life

At BAE Systems Australia, we are extremely proud of the brave men and women who have served our country and are grateful for their sacrifice.  Since 2015, BAE Systems has been partnering with Soldier On, as they work side by side with those who serve and protect Australia and their families. This partnership combines financial support, in-kind donations and ongoing employee fundraising and volunteering initiatives. Recognising the benefits of this external support service for veteran employees, BAE Systems Australia formed its own Veterans Advisory Committee (VAC).  Mat is one of those who led the initiative of the VAC. A veteran himself and former CEO of Soldier On, he is now working in Business Development at BAE Systems. Mat says the VAC was created as he saw a need for BAE Systems Australia to be able to provide a voice and ongoing support to veterans and their families who work within the business.  ‘We wanted to facilitate a culture that really embraces the strengths of a veteran’s workforce.’ 

‘We wanted to facilitate a culture that really embraces the strengths of a veteran’s workforce.’

As well as providing ongoing support to veterans at a peer-to-peer level, Mat also recognised that it was important to assist veterans as they navigate their way out of the Defence force and transfer into a civilian workplace like BAE Systems. 

‘We wanted to be at the forefront of assisting veterans as they translate their skills and experiences to be relevant in our business. Often when these men and women come out of the Defence force, they don’t know how to translate their skills, experiences, expertise, and character traits to be relevant in a civilian setting.’ ‘…A lot of people, especially those who have served for a significant part of their life, only know that service and there are so many new things that they need to encounter when joining a civilian workforce like ours, that we would probably take for granted. Having the VAC there as that point of contact can help that navigation.’  Having had extremely close ties with the Australian Defence Force industries for decades, establishing a Veterans Advisory Committee within the company to provide this support for employees was a natural process for BAE Systems.  ‘What we’re trying to do is to say that when you join our ranks in BAE Systems you are just as a part of the overall defence and national security enterprise, as you were when you were in uniform.’  ‘Instead of being on the frontline, you’re playing key roles to develop the future ships and weapons systems, which are still so important and essential to ensuring that the men and women who are on the frontline are able to do their jobs.’  This support which the VAC provides to the 500+ veterans within the company is needed now in 2020, more than ever. 

Mat, along with many others, has encountered and seen through his own eyes the effects of serving and the mental burden and toll it can take on some. Having lost some of his classmates from the Australian Defence Force to suicide, he says acknowledging the problem is the first step:  ‘I’ve seen up close the impacts that the service can have on men and women, both really closely with my friends and then with Soldier On. I’ve seen firsthand these strong men and women who I always looked up to and idolised almost become a shell of themselves.’

Hoping to make a difference, the Committee, which consists of nine other veteran employees within the company, has worked hard to ensure there is a strong membership base within the company which includes both men and women and their families from diverse backgrounds: age, culture and military experiences. Having this broad range of members involved ensures all veterans who join will receive the ongoing support they need.  

Media Release – Raytheon Australia expands support to Australian veterans and families

Raytheon Australia Managing Director, Michael Ward today announced that the company will increase its financial sponsorship to Soldier On to $275,000 over three years.

The increased funding will make Raytheon Australia one of Soldier On’s largest financial sponsors, enabling them to reach more veterans and families across Australia. The funds will support Soldier On’s Veteran and Family Support Officer who provides employment services to veterans and families across South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

“This additional sponsorship from Raytheon Australia demonstrates their commitment to supporting the successful transition of veterans, and their families, into the workforce. They recognise that these men and women are assets to Australian Industry, particularly Defence Industry,” CEO and Co-Founder of Soldier On, John Bale said.

Since launching their employment program in late November 2016, Soldier On has supported more than 600 veterans and spouses through career advice, job application support, interview preparation and development courses. Soldier On has been working directly with industry, through the Pledge for Veteran Employment, to provide greater opportunities and access to roles. Raytheon Australia has signed the Pledge and is working closely with Solider On to employ more veterans within their organisation.

“Supporting veterans is a responsibility that belongs to us all and I am pleased that our contribution will make a real difference to the lives of many.” said Michael Ward. “This additional financial pledge gives back to the defence community in which our company operates and demonstrates Raytheon Australia’s strong commitment to transitioning veterans and their families”.

Raytheon Australia has been a sponsor of Soldier On since 2016 and also funds the Veteran and Family Support Officer in Canberra. In addition, the Raytheon Australia workforce hold various fundraising activities throughout the year to provide greater support to veterans and families.

Soldier On does not receive government funding and relies on the generosity and commitment of community fundraisers, philanthropists, trusts and corporate sponsors. “To have an organisation like Raytheon Australia, and its staff, recognise the importance of the service Soldier On is providing veterans and their families is incredibly humbling.” said John Bale. “It shows that by working together, we can provide the support deserved by those who serve our nation and help to build positive futures.”

-ENDS-

For more information contact:

Melissa Russell

Communications & Marketing Director

Soldier On

0428 076 773

Adventurous Training Wing Expedition

Join Soldier On and the Adventurous Training Wing of the Australian Army for a 10 day expedition along the NSW South Coast.

The Adventurous Training Wing (ATW) prepare their soldiers for adversity through challenge. Their overall mission is to develop the individual (as well as group qualities) required for battle. However, it has also been identified that those off active duty can benefit from the challenges and achievements from these rigorous programs.

As a way of asssiting those on the other side of battle and service, the program aims to showcase the impact of adventure therapy for transitioning or injured military personnel.

The ATW Expedition is a multi-element program, including 2 days of theory-based training and a 7 day tour including sea kayaking, caving and canyoning to build a sense of achievement as an individual and a team.

 

Dates: 20th -29th November 2017

 

Keen to apply? For further information and to register your interest, email activities@soldieron.org.au

Myths and Facts About Seeking Help From A Psychologist

 

Although awareness about mental health issues is increasing within society, stigma about seeking help and going to see a Psychologist still remains. This can act as a barrier to people reaching out for support when they may need it the most. This can be especially true for the military population. For serving and ex-serving members, there may be additional concerns about consequences if they did identify that they needed help. In this article, we take a look at some of the myths about what it means to see a Psychologist, and how they might be getting in the way of people accessing support and preventing them from living a more full and happy life.


Myth: Asking for help is a sign of weakness 

Fact: Seeking help when you are struggling can be a very difficult thing to do

You may fear that you are weak because you are not able to just “get over it” or “move on” or worry that others will judge you. This may have been something you have heard from others or you may have even been encouraged to “suck it up and get on with the job”. Whilst there might have been times when that was necessary, avoiding or denying your worries or problems will only make them worse in the long run. Acknowledging your struggles and reaching out for help takes a lot of strength and determination. Seeking help means you are taking action and challenging the way you are currently experiencing life.


Myth: Therapy is only for people with “serious” issues or mental illness 

Fact: You do not need a diagnosed psychological disorder to see a Psychologist

There are many reasons people seek help including learning how to cope with a diagnosis, relationships, stress, grief and loss, adjustment issues and responses to trauma.


Myth: Seeing a Psychologist is no different to talking to friends or family 

Fact: Whilst support from friends and family is very important, seeing a Psychologist is different for a number of reasons

Psychologists have years of training and practice on how to work with a range of cognitive, emotional, behavioural and relational issues. As registered health professionals, they are also held to a strict code of ethics about how they should behave. Seeing a Psychologist is all about you, whereas talking to friends and family is more of a back and forth, discussing each other’s issues. In a session with a Psychologist, people are less likely to censor themselves or sugar coat their issues because the Psychologist has a more neutral position. Also, when you talk to a Psychologist, what you discuss is confidential, which means the Psychologist is not able to disclose your information to others without your consent or knowledge (with a few exceptions).


Myth: Therapy is too expensive

Fact: In lots of cases, therapy can be very expensive. However, Psychologists at Soldier On provide their services with no out-of-pocket expenses to clients

Another service that provides free counselling to veterans and their families is the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) which provide services Australia wide. Other programs to assist with making access to Psychologists more affordable include the non-liability white card through DVA and the Better Access to Mental Health initiative funded through Medicare. Both allow you to access a Psychologist through a referral provided by your GP.


Myth: Therapy is all about discussing my childhood

Fact: There are a range of different therapeutic approaches provided by Psychologists

Depending on why are you seeing a Psychologist, the Psychologist will tailor their approach to be right for you. For some, that will mean exploring past relationships with family, friends and partners and how these might be impacting them currently. Other approaches will be more focused on what is happening for you in the present and learning new coping skills and strategies. When you see a Psychologist, they should talk to you about your needs and how best to customise sessions to suit your unique personal situation.


Myth: Seeing a Psychologist will ruin my career

Fact: Evidence shows that accessing psychological support as soon as possible leads to better outcomes and might reduce the impacts of any mental health difficulties on your work

A common barrier to seeking help, especially for those still serving in the ADF, is that they are concerned that acknowledging that they need assistance will mean that their career is over, or they will be penalised for doing so. While it may be necessary for some members to be medically downgraded as a result of their presenting issues, this is not always the case. What is important is that you seek the help you need, when you need it.


If you are considering seeking help, please contact one of our Soldier On Psychologists via 1300 620 380 or psychology@soldieron.org.au during business hours, Monday to Friday.

Alternatively, you can contact VVCS through their national contact line on 1800 011 046, or Lifeline on 13 11 14, at any time of the day or night.

psych with border

Veterans and Depression

Whilst there is growing recognition that trauma can result in difficulties such as PTSD, there tends to be less focus on depression, which is actually the highest reported mental health problem in Australian military populations. Depression in the military and veterans often co-occurs with PTSD. It is also commonly seen in people dealing with life-changing injuries and chronic pain.

Depression is a common response to trauma and loss. The more trauma someone experiences, the higher the risk of experiencing depression. We know that for a variety of reasons it takes most people many years to access help, if at all. The longer one waits the more entrenched these difficulties can become.

Signs you may be experiencing low mood/depression

There are a lot of misconceptions about depression, but here are some common signs that could indicate it may be a problem:

  • Low self-esteem or self-worth, including negative thoughts or feelings about oneself
  • Disrupted sleep including sleeping too much or too little (insomnia)
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Difficulties managing feelings, such as anger or anxiety
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Reduced or absent sex drive
  • Finding it difficult to motivate yourself to do things which now seem to be too much effort or meaningless
  • Reduced pain tolerance
  • Low energy levels

What can you do if you or someone you know is experiencing low mood or depression?

If you have been experiencing some or many of the above, it is a good idea to let someone know such as a trusted family member or friend. You should also seek professional help, which you can do with your doctor or one of Soldier On’s psychologists.

Depression by its nature can make it feel like things will not get better but we know there are a range of different strategies that help, including evidence-bases psychological therapies such as CBT and Interpersonal Therapy. Practical strategies to facilitate recovery include having a regular schedule, engaging in pleasurable activities and exercise.

If you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself and/or others

At times, people may feel so low and unable to see a way forward that they experience thoughts of suicide. These sometimes occur with thoughts of harming others. Soldier On’s psychologists work with clients struggling with these types of thoughts to keep the clients and those around them safe. This involves managing the immediate risk, safety planning and providing evidence-based psychological therapies to help clients to not act on and move past these difficult thoughts and feelings.

It is only when there is a serious risk of harm to self or others that psychologists are ethically bound to breach confidentiality and contact crisis mental health services for additional support. Our psychologists actively involve clients in this process, and encourage them to also involve their family, friends and support networks in risk management, where appropriate. At these times, our psychologists will also look to inform all those involved in their client’s care to ensure they receive ongoing support. This way of working fits with the Mental Health Act principal of managing mental health crises in the least restrictive environment to ensure safe and effective care.

If you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself and/or others, we want to let you know that there is help available.



|| Soldier On psychologists are available in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Currumbin and Perth (from late January). Our psychology services are free of charge to veterans and their family members. Please email psychology@soldieron.org.au to book a session or to find out more information. There are also several other support services available to you, including VVCS (1800 011 046), Lifeline (13 11 14), beyondblue (1300 22 4636), other veteran organisations, and your GP.

Soldier On also offers Employment Support Services and Social Connected activities to help veterans and their families forge new career paths after leaving the military and encourage them to reconnect with themselves, their loved ones and the community. ||