Last week I was chatting to a long time local who asked me "does everyone who serves in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) develop mental health problems during or after their service?".
Given the amount of media attention to that subject, it was a fair question. The answer is no, not all veterans have mental health problems.
To expand on this answer I went on to say while most of our current and ex-service men and women do not suffer from mental health problems, as a consequence of there service, there are many that do.
An ADF mental health prevalence study released in 2010 points to the fact that the rate of mental disorders over a lifetime were higher among the ex-service community than the general population.
There appears to be no shortage of organisations now established in the broader community claiming to have at least some of their mandate, if not all of it, aimed at supporting veterans and their families.
What I, and many other veterans, have found frustrating is these organisations do not appear to be networked or coordinated, so when seeking services or providing advice to those needing support services it can be confusing, inaccurate and frustrating.
This week I was fortunate enough to attend a meeting chaired by a lady who is having a real attempt at networking veteran support organisations and providing a real opportunity for young veterans to help each other, particularly in the area of mental health.
Cath Allen is the Project Coordinator for the Veterans Centre Sydney Northern Beaches (VCSNB) Wellbeing Program. No, this is not another organisation that has recently sprung up in the veterans sector but a program that has been successful in Sydney.
Cath and the VCSNB team have successfully secured a DVA Supporting Younger Veterans Grant. The grant has enabled VCSNB to expand its 'Wellbeing Informed Responder Volunteer Program', still in its infancy, to three areas; Dee Why, Murrumbidgee, and Coffs Harbour (Mid North Coast).
So what does this project actually do?
The project is intended to develop and support young veterans to help their peers, through being able to triage the situation which an individual or family is in and facilitate referral pathways to professional help within their community.
The project centres on peers helping peers, due to the tight-knit nature of the military community it often is a peer who provides initial assistance rather than a medical professional or the military chain-of-command.
The project is about developing a peer network with Wellbeing Informed Responder Volunteers receiving training centred on early prevention and intervention, and to facilitate pathways to professional help and transition from Defence to Community Integration.
ADF figures on those separating from Defence each year are approximately 5,500 personnel. Although we don't have specific figures we know that some of those separating from Defence are relocating to the Mid North Coast. Perhaps you, a friend or family member might be a suitable participant in this project as a Wellbeing Informed Responder Volunteer.
There are some criteria that would be advantageous for such a volunteer to have, amongst those is that you have experience in overcoming adversity and you have empathy toward mental health issues. There would be a requirement to participate in training and ongoing development and a willingness to assist someone through problem solving processes. Courses for volunteers are short one and two day duration and are held here on the Mid North Coast.
This Project will help to facilitate early intervention and community integration through young veteran peers utilising their own knowledge and experience. These volunteers will fill a crucial role acting as a conduit connecting veterans to a holistic range of services.
Knowledge acquired during this program will also inform service delivery, reduce the frequency of service duplication and streamline services to address gaps. I applaud Cath Allen and the VCSNB team for this innovative approach to tackling problems facing many in the veteran community.
The growing network in attendance at the meeting yesterday demonstrates the concept has real potential for success with representation by the Veterans Centre Mid North Coast, a number of RSL Sub Branches from the Mid North Coast, Legacy, the Department of Human Services, Mid Coast Home Nursing and the emergency housing sector.
- Mick Birtles DSC is a decorated retired army officer, who now calls Nambucca Heads home.