While working in Defence is a rewarding career, the work can place stress on the lives of its members, so it is fitting that the series of Australian Defence Force Mental Health Days held around Australia in October was marked with the theme of ‘Taking Action’.
One such event was held at Darwin's Larrakeyah Barracks, where members of the Navy, Army and Air Force gathered to watch a video on mental health in the Australian Defence Force, participate in group stress-busting activities, and enjoy a BBQ lunch.
The event was opened by an address from the Commander Northern Command, Commodore Brenton Smyth, who encouraged attendees to take the time to consider the important message in the video, and to consider the Defence culture and how each member's role fits into that culture.
“We all know that life in general is a source of stress, and in Defence there are a whole lot of stresses and strains put on us as a result of the work we do, along with the stresses we place upon ourselves,” Commodore Smyth said.
“One important aspect of our culture in Defence is that we look after our mates.
“Taking action underscores the importance of looking after ourselves and looking after our mates.”
The video commenced with important messages from the Chief of Defence Force and the senior most leaders of the organisation, and then proceeded to depict three parallel scenarios in which Defence members suffering from personal and/or professional stress ultimately received support from Command, peers and support organisations.
After engaging in the video, the members present participated in a group activity called ‘laughter yoga’ in which participants were instructed to be playful and laugh, while maintaining eye contact with colleagues.
Petty Officer Barth Tiro from the Patrol Boat Crew Support Squadron at HMAS Coonawarra enjoyed the opportunity to laugh out loud with colleagues of all ranks and from a variety of Defence backgrounds.
“The laughter yoga was certainly a different experience for all of us.
“Most people’s laughter was a bit forced at first, but it was interesting to see people’s reactions as they gradually relaxed and the laughing became more natural.
“The laughter yoga experience provided a release and increased the harmony between participants,” Petty Officer Tiro said.
The Officer in Charge of the Navy Psychology Unit at Coonawarra, Lieutenant Commander Mark Rowell, was pleased with the reception from the participants.
“It was pleasing to see a good cross-section of people from right across the base participating fully in the activities provided.
“The Mental Health Day is all about raising awareness and reducing the stigma that can be associated with mental illness.
“The examples shown in the video were very relatable, and it was great to have the importance of mental health endorsed by the senior leadership - both on the video and in person,” Lieutenant Commander Rowell said.
There is a range of services available to assist Australian Defence Force members and their families who may be suffering mental health concerns, including Chain of Command, Health Centres, Mental Health and Psychology Staff, Chaplains or Duty Officer as well as a range of online and support line services.