Navy members looking out for each other and themselves

Published on Mrs Sara Tennant (author), Ms Elise Willamson (photographer)

Location(s): RAAF Base Edinburgh, SA

Topic(s): ADF Mental Health Day

Navy mental health professional Commander Steve Dunning, RANR, with Navy participants at a Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop held at RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia. From left: Commander Steve Dunning, RANR, Leading Seaman Electronic Warfare Bianca Hall, Lieutenant Commander Matt Curnow and Petty Officer Dental Rachel Edwards. (photo: Elise Willamson)
Navy mental health professional Commander Steve Dunning, RANR, with Navy participants at a Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop held at RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia. From left: Commander Steve Dunning, RANR, Leading Seaman Electronic Warfare Bianca Hall, Lieutenant Commander Matt Curnow and Petty Officer Dental Rachel Edwards.

As Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Tim Barrett called on all Navy members to “look out for each other and themselves” on ADF Mental Health Day, Navy Reservist and mental health professional, Commander Steve Dunning has reminded members of the ADF’s commitment to taking care of its key capability - its people, during a recent workshop held at RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia.

Having just co-facilitated his 23rd Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop, Commander Dunning remains passionate about raising the awareness of mental health in the ADF and ensuring Navy members have access to appropriate mental health training.
 
Commander Dunning said the intent of ASIST is to help increase people’s ability to recognise when someone may be at risk of suicide and enable them to reach out in a supportive way that links them with resources.
 
Having trained more than 400 ADF members in ASIST over the past eight years, Commander Dunning said the feedback from participants about the value of the training remains overwhelmingly positive.
 
For Commander Dunning the highlight of the recent two-day workshop was to see the personal growth of the 21 participants as they stepped out of their comfort zones, took risks and challenged their beliefs and values around mental health.
 
“Participants were extremely self-motivated and eager to learn in an interactive collegial environment. There was a genuine commitment to help others and ASIST provided members with a knowledge and skill set that will stand them in good stead in the workplace, at home and in their communities.
 
“Given the significant demands made on members and their families through their service in the ADF there is an increased awareness and recognition among serving members of mental health issues and that some people may need help,” he said.
 
Commander Dunning said it was also encouraging to see a number of Navy members attend the latest workshop given Navy’s small presence in South Australia compared to the other services.
 
Workshop participant, Petty Officer Rachel Edwards said she was motivated to attend ASIST to develop further insight and understanding of suicide and to ensure she is prepared and able to help someone at risk.
 
“Because of ASIST I am now better informed and have an understanding of suicide and what it takes to help someone in need.
 
“I feel the ASIST course has given me the knowledge and skills I was looking for and has met all my expectations. I think suicide awareness should be incorporated in routine staff meetings so this improves and promotes awareness of support services available,” Petty Officer Edwards added.
 
For another Navy participant, Leading Seaman Bianca Hall said while having walked into the classroom not knowing what to expect, she came away equally effusive of the benefits of ASIST.
 
“I found it extremely beneficial, I now feel better equipped in asking the suicide question, I also feel more comfortable on how to address suicide and how to structure sentences to better be able to understand the person at risk," she said
 
As to encouraging other members to do ASIST, Leading Seaman Hall said she thought it would benefit all members in their ongoing personal and professional development.
 
“Absolutely, I believe it would be a great benefit for all members to do this course as it helps to identify the signs of suicide, the support organisations that can be contacted and also how to ask straight up if you think someone is at risk,” Leading Seaman Hall said.
 
“ASIST is part of the ADF’s broader Mental Health Strategy and affords us the opportunity to maintain awareness of mental health.
 
“One of the advantages that ASIST has is that its hands on and interactive. Participants get to share their experiences, do role plays in a safe environment and learn from one another. Members attend in civilian attire, there is no rank just first names and a commitment to develop networks and mental health resources,” Commander Dunning said.

ADF Mental Health Day aligns with National Mental Health Week (6-12 October) and is dedicated to mental health education, awareness and advocacy. Defence members are holding a range of activities throughout the month of October on bases across Australia, and on ships and selected deployments to raise awareness of mental health issues.

For more information about Defence’s mental health programs and where to get help, visit http://www.defence.gov.au/health.