Nine ADF suicides in three weeks

 

The suicide of nine serving and non-serving Defence personnel in the last three weeks across Australia is "unprecedented", leaving the veteran community "speechless" and asking what will it take for real change.

Some are blaming cumulative mental health impacts strained by the added stress of the recent Afghanistan war crimes report, which found evidence of 39 murders by Australian Special Forces.

The eight men and one woman who took their own lives - the latest on November 19 - were aged from their early 20s to 50s and were based in Queensland and New South Wales.

Among them was 32-year-old Private Shane Holt, who was based in Brisbane, served in Afghanistan and leaves behind a partner and his three-year-old son.

 

Memorial post for Private Shane Holt posted by The Pineapple Express on November 20, 2020, with family’s permission
Memorial post for Private Shane Holt posted by The Pineapple Express on November 20, 2020, with family’s permission

None of the recent suicide deaths are related. Nor are they directly linked to the Afghanistan war crimes report.

"The number of suicides in such a small time frame is unprecedented - it's unfathomable," said Paul, an ex-Australian Defence Force (ADF) member who did not want to be identified.

"We are absolutely speechless," said Paul, not his real name. "And these are only the Defence members and veterans that we know of, and does not take into account the number of suicide attempts that have been occurring."

Paul posted information of the deaths, with family permissions, to raise awareness through a national online community called the Pineapple Express that is advocating for veteran mental health.

 

Memorial post of Leading Aircraftsman Robert Phillips by The Pineapple Express on November 16, 2020.
Memorial post of Leading Aircraftsman Robert Phillips by The Pineapple Express on November 16, 2020.

The Advertiser and Sunday Mail's Let's Talk campaign a week ago today reported the veteran suicide toll was 32.5 per cent higher than last year.

The recent suicides now tip that rate closer to 40 per cent, with at least 56 veterans taking their own lives since January compared to 40 last year.

"It's tragic and devastating and it shouldn't be happening," said Adelaide Army veteran Nathan Bolton, a member of the SA Premier's Council on Suicide Prevention.

"Things are happening to address mental health in the ADF but it's not happening fast enough and too many are still being left behind," said Bolton, co-director of mental health service Bolton Brothers.

 

 

Memorial post for Private Braiden Russell by The Pineapple Express on October 31, 2020.
Memorial post for Private Braiden Russell by The Pineapple Express on October 31, 2020.

"I think some of the media (reporting of the war crimes report) has been painting everyone with the same brush and people seem to have forgotten about innocence until proven guilty - and that adds additional stress," said Adelaide ex-infantry soldier and veterans' mental health advocate Neil 'Wally' Wallace.

The Defence Department did not respond before deadline.

For help, call Open Arms Veteran and Family Counselling on 1800 011 046; Safe Zone Support on 1800 142 072; or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Watch our live Let's Talk Forum on veterans' mental health at 7pm, Tuesday, at theadvertiser.com.au.

Originally published as Nine ADF suicides in three weeks



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