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Battle against suicide

By Andrew Stackpool

Eight out of 10 people give warning signs of suicide that should be heeded.

Eight out of 10 people give warning signs of suicide that should be heeded.

“I WISH there was absolutely no requirement for us to be here today launching a program focused on the prevention of suicide within the ADF.”

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 Day.

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 something more.

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 separate story).

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.”

Talk or hints of suicide behaviour
Preoccupation with death
Giving away possessions
Isolation or withdrawal
Increased alcohol or drug use
Lack of interest in hobbies, appearance, or in the future
Performance difficulties

Ask “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
Intervene – assist the person to seek help
Don’t keep it a secret
Locate help
Inform chain of command
Find someone to stay with the person
Expedite – get help immediately

Sources of help available

THE Suicide Prevention Program complements existing health and mental health services.

It has five key elements:

1. 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.

2. The Department’s mental health web site – accessed through Defence’s homepage or mentalhealth – which provides information to assist people who may be in crisis or need more detailed information and points of contact.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.



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