Opinion – Veterans have poorer mental health than Australians overall. We could be serving them better

Veterans are at higher risk of mental illness than the rest of the Australian population. Many of them are seeking help, but the way care is provided to this group must consider their unique needs. Opinion by Nicole Sadler, University of Melbourne

A career in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), or the armed forces in any country, can be rewarding, but also demanding. Challenges include the rigorous training, frequent moves, and maintaining social connections.

Beyond this, military personnel may be exposed to trauma during combat, peace-keeping missions, border protection, disaster and humanitarian relief, and training accidents.

They may be confronted not only with threats to their own lives or safety, but also with the suffering or death of others, which can have a significant emotional and psychological impact.

So it’s not surprising we see higher rates of mental illness among veterans compared to the overall Australian population.

The rates of suicide are also concerning, particularly among younger veterans. Between 2001 and 2016, 373 Australian veterans took their lives. Male veterans under 30 had a suicide rate more than twice the national average for men the same age. These figures have led to considerable community concern, including calls for a royal commission into veteran suicide.

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