The Minister for Defence, Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, today released the key findings of the 2010 ADF Mental Health Prevalence and Wellbeing Study and launched the 2011 ADF Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy.
“The study is the first comprehensive assessment of the overall mental health of the ADF’s serving population, and this type of study to validate the prevalence of mental health disorders in a defence population is a world first.
“It has shaped the blueprint for managing the mental fitness of our personnel,” Mr Snowdon said at the Australian Military Medicine Conference inMelbourne.
The study is part of a $93 million Mental Health Reform Program designed to improve access to mental health care for servicemen and women and veterans.
The four year reform program was commissioned following recommendations from the 2009 Dunt Review of mental health care in the ADF.
In collaboration with the the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies at the University of Adelaide and the Centre for Military and Veterans’ Health, and Defence’s Joint Health Command, about half of the ADF workforce was surveyed.
The Mental Health Prevalence and Wellbeing Study involved a screening questionnaire, followed by a clinical interview with personnel more likely to experience a mental health problem.
The study confirms that mental disorder is as common in the ADF as in the wider Australian community, with about half of ADF members experiencing a mental disorder at some point in their lifetime.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders and of these disorders post-traumatic stress is higher than the Australian community.
“What makes ADF people different is their exposure to high risk situations and as a result there is a higher occurrence of PTSD than in the Australian community, making this an area where we are concentrating our efforts,” Mr Snowdon said.
The study indicated there was little difference in the prevalence of mental health disorders between personnel who had deployed and those who had not.
“The results of this study will help the ADF tailor its mental health support to suit the needs of its serving men and women,” Mr Snowdon said.
The study has provided foundations for the development of the 2011 Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy, which is an integral part of the Mental Health Reform program initiated by the Dunt review.
The strategy is specifically aimed at providing a solid foundation for good health and wellbeing within the ADF, and to ensure services targeting mental health care are promoted and available. It will focus on both strengthening resilience and enabling recovery.
The strategy addresses seven immediate priority areas and will provide a bluepint for the 2012-2015 Mental Health Action Plan to be developed in consultation with the single services and key stakeholders.
The Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley said there is still some reluctance among ADF personnel to seek help for mental illness, stemming from a fear that having a mental disorder may affect an individual’s career.
“The ADF is working hard to change that perception, providing a range of support to people who are experiencing mental health disorders.
“Importantly, we have changed our policies and procedures to give us more flexibility with managing recovery times, with discharge from the Defence Force being an option of last resort.
“I am very pleased to see that our comprehensive operational mental health support programs are working, ensuring better outcomes for ADF personnel and their families,” General Hurley said.
Copies of the study and strategy will be available at www.defence.gov.au or through Defence Media Operations.
Alice Plate (Minister Snowdon’s Office): 0400 045 999 or 02 6277 7820
Defence Media Operations: 02 6127 1999