7 November 2018

Young veterans at increased risk of mental illness and suicide

Young veterans at increased risk of mental illness and suicide

Young people who transition out of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) within their first year or early in their career are at an increased risk of developing a mental illness and are twice as likely to die by suicide than young Australians in the general community.

A new report, The Next Post: Young People transitioning from military service and mental health, co-authored by Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, and Phoenix Australia - Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, recommends targeted interventions and services to be developed to support this vulnerable group.

Dr Simon Rice, a senior research fellow at Orygen, said recent Australian research had revealed that young people who leave the military with less than four years of active service are at increased risk for depression, panic attacks, suicidality and alcohol-use disorders.

“This increased risk of mental ill-health could be attributed to a number of factors including exposure to potentially traumatic events on operations, or leaving the service involuntarily,” Dr Rice said. “The loss of the protective factors the military provides, including social support, and a sense of belonging and identity, can affect the mental health of young ex-serving personnel, leaving many feeling unprepared for civilian life."

The report’s authors consulted with younger veterans and service providers to identify what they saw as their needs and gaps in available services. To reduce the high rates of mental illness and suicide among young ex-serving ADF personnel, the report recommends:

  • the implementation of a mandatory comprehensive social and psychological assessment prior to young people transitioning out of the military;
  • the development of targeted support hubs, co-designed in partnership with ex-serving personnel, to provide a youth-specific model of mental health care. Different levels of service would be provided based on the risk of mental health or psychosocial adjustment problems; and
  • improving engagement with young serving and ex-serving personnel, with a specific focus on engaging young service personnel during the recruitment process, initial training, and within their first year of service.

Associate Professor Darryl Wade, head of policy and practice at Phoenix Australia, said a focused and coordinated approach that complemented existing services was required to address mental health conditions among young ex-serving ADF personnel.

”It is especially important for young ex-serving people that we proactively engage with them, provide them with advice and support, and make treatment services easily accessible, including after individuals have transitioned out of the military,” Associate Professor Wade said.

“Enhanced contact with and support from loved ones, including partners and parents, is particularly important for young people”.

Read the full report here.

Download video and audio grabs here