The suicide statistics among Australia’s veteran and ex-Defence population are alarming.
- Among ex-serving men, the suicide rate is 13 per cent higher compared with all Australian men.
- Ex-serving men aged 18 to 24 have a suicide rate that is twice as high as all Australian men of the same age.
- Men aged 18-29 who have medically discharged are most at risk, especially during the critical 12-month post-transition period.
Even more alarming is the fact that there may be up to 20 attempts at suicide for every actual death by suicide.
Suicide prevention and Operation Compass
Townsville is one place where serious steps have been taken to address the problem of suicide among the ex-Defence community. Townsville is Australia’s largest garrison city and is home to a substantial population of current and former Defence personnel, estimated (along with their families) to make up 20 per cent of the community.
It is here that a suicide prevention project called Operation Compass was launched in 2017.
Operation Compass is one of 12 national suicide prevention trials operating around the country and is the only one of its kind to focus solely on veterans and their families. Using detailed research by The Black Dog Institute, its explicit objective is to reduce the suicide rate among the ex-Defence community via a multi-pronged strategy.
This takes the form of diverse campaigns, among them clinical support for people in need, innovation programmes such as supporting veterans affected by anti-malaria drugs, community grants and peer-led networks.
One of the most crucial messages of Project Compass is the need for direct and widespread community involvement to help with suicide prevention.
#CheckYourMates and prevention through connection
The #CheckYourMates campaign was launched by Operation Compass at the beginning of the 2018 holiday season. Based on the principle of “prevention through connection” the #CheckYourMates concept is remarkably simple and effective.
As the name suggests, #CheckYourMates urges you to check on others. Specifically, it challenges you to check on five people. #CheckYourMates materials distributed carried a powerful yet simple message: “This summer period, we challenge you to check five mates. Those who are going well, challenge them to check five more mates. Those who may not be travelling well, encourage and support to seek help.” The campaign urges you to do so with three simple steps:
CONNECT to others
When checking in with someone, make a time to see them. It could be catching up for a coffee or a drink, going fishing, a run, a round of golf, dinner or lunch.
YARN to listen
Ask them how they’ve been lately. The intention is to talk and listen without being judgmental. Find out where someone is at, by asking them what they’ve been up to and see how they’ve been travelling. Listen and don’t judge.
MOTIVATE to act
The final step when checking in with someone is to be as encouraging and supportive as you can. If someone can do with a little help, offer to take them to where they can get it. This may involve getting professional support. Let them know when you want to talk or catch up again and make it clear that you’re there for them.
When the #CheckYourMates campaign was launched during Christmas 2018, it quickly picked up a lot of momentum. By May 2019, the #CheckYourMates video campaign had reached over 600,000 people on social media — and as a result of this success, the campaign is now promoted year-round.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.