out of 10 people give warning signs of suicide that should
WISH there was absolutely no requirement for us to be here today
launching a program focused on the prevention of suicide within
Director-General Defence Health Services Air Commodore Tony Austin
made that comment at the launch of the ADF’s new Suicide Prevention
Program (SPP) on September 10 to mark World Suicide Prevention
Suicide is the third highest cause of deaths in the ADF. There
are about seven or eight suicides a year and since 1996 there
have been 462 reported cases of non-fatal related behaviour.
AIRCDRE Austin said that while suicide in the ADF was very low
in “absolute number terms”, the impact on colleagues, family and
friends could be “horrendous”. “They can blame [the person] ...
feel he or she has betrayed them or that they could have done
As a consequence of that one act, the reaction can go on for many
years,” AIRCDRE Austin said. “If we can make just the tiniest
bit of difference then we have done something very, very good
for our colleagues.”
The ultimate aim of the program is to prevent people at risk being
undetected, and a range of help is available to aid this (see
This goal is particularly important because international research
during the current confl ict in Iraq and following the 1991 Gulf
War found that depression, substance and alcohol abuse can emerge
years or even decades after the event.
In the ADF, the most common issues that lead to suicide are depression
and personal stresses, including relationship problems, fi nancial
problems, legal/disciplinary problems and problematic use of alcohol.
Previously, it was believed that pre-recruitment screening would
identify people at possible risk. In the future, mental health
screening will be part of routine health assessments to identify
and offer intervention.
Lieutenant-Colonel Stephanie Hodson and Lisa Congdon, of the ADF’s
Directorate of Mental Health, said it was imperative the ADF embrace
and confront suicide without attaching stigma to people.
Director of Psychology Colonel Tony Cotton said the key was to
build “a community where people are aware of the issues that affect
suicide, both the risk and protective issues so that we can better
help our mates; engendering a sense that it is OK to seek help”.
“If people can do the training, they can then use that to make
people aware that these things do happen and that they shouldn’t
be frightened to talk about it,” COL Cotton said.
CAF Air Marshal Angus Houston endorsed the program.
“We are a small Air Force and our combat capability hinges on
our people,” he said.
“The Suicide Prevention Program is a positive initiative to help
commanders, supervisors, workmates and friends ensure our people
are given support and assistance when they need it most.”
or hints of suicide behaviour
Isolation or withdrawal
alcohol or drug use
Lack of interest in hobbies, appearance, or in the future
“Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
– assist the person to seek help
keep it a secret
chain of command
someone to stay with the person
– get help immediately
Sources of help available
Suicide Prevention Program complements existing health and mental
It has five key elements:
The all-hours support line – freecall 1800 628 036 or, for international
callers, 61 2 9425 3878. This is a confi dential telephone service
operated by mental health practitioners who have been specially
trained in ADF-specifi c issues.
They assess the situation and offer the caller the most suitable
support, ranging from managing an emergency situation to referring
non-urgent cases to relevant agencies the next day.
The Department’s mental health web site – accessed through Defence’s
homepage or www.defence.gov.au/dpe/dhs/ mentalhealth – which provides
information to assist people who may be in crisis or need more
detailed information and points of contact.
Fact sheets on suicide and the all-hours support line, which are
available from a unit’s medical centre or the local DCO offi ce.
Suicide awareness training for caregivers will be provided to
all personnel, health professionals and commanders. It provides
skills to identify people at risk of suicide and then provide
the emergency suicide fi rst aid and life-assisting intervention,
such as reassurance and support until the person can be passed
on to health professionals. This caregiver can be anyone, regardless
of rank or position.
Policy development, reporting and support. An overarching policy
for suicide-related behaviour management is being developed to
complement current policy on suicide management, including the
treatment and counselling of personnel and their families involved
in suicide and non-fatal suicide related incidents.