Dispelling the stigma attached to mental health concerns is one of the key aims of the Defence Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2018-2023 recently released in Canberra.
Acting Chief of Defence Force, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs and Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty launched the strategy at Russell Offices on 10 October - World Mental Health Day.
At the launch, Vice Admiral Griggs said in 2014 he spoke at a mental health event and highlighted that one in five people would experience some form of mental health issue, and need to seek assistance.
“I observed I was actually one of those one in five. Interestingly enough, some people said it was inappropriate for me to say that, which I thought was weird,” Vice Admiral Griggs said.
“The whole point of trying to break down the stigma around mental health is talking about it and making sure people feel comfortable that you can talk about it.”
He said Defence had come a long way in its approach but had to “keep pushing hard”.
“There are still people across the organisation who believe their career is over if they raise a concern about their mental health,” he said.
“We’ve got to keep coming back with data and information that shows that’s not the case. But it’s not just about data, it’s about convincing people we as a senior leadership team are serious about saying it’s okay to put your hand up.”
Vice Admiral Griggs said early identification and intervention was the key to recovery.
“We have to talk more about recovery, we have to have more of the stories we know are out there of people who have been affected by mental health and have come through the other side and are productive and have continued on with their careers,” he said.
Vice Admiral Griggs said Defence had some excellent mental health programs and services.
“I don’t think there’s an organisation in the country that puts as much effort into mental health conventions and management as we do,” he said.
When he attended the recent Invictus Games in Toronto he also took part in a Chiefs’ conference about wounded, injured and ill personnel.
“It was clear to me that things like our suicide awareness and prevention programs are making a massive difference inside the Australian Defence Force and they are world-leading in terms of the results,” he said.
“There was no other chief or vice-chief there who could point to the fact that, in our example, our suicide rate is 50 percent below the national average.
“That is still too high, but 50 percent below the national average is an amazing achievement and a testament to the work we do on a daily basis.”
Vice Admiral Griggs said the good thing about the new strategy was it struck the right balance between recognising the similarities and the unique elements of Australian Defence Force and Australian Public Service.
The Defence Secretary echoed that sentiment, saying he was impressed the strategy represented the range of issues around Defence’s military and civilian workforce.
“It does come down to the principles of One Defence of mutual respect and understanding of the particular attributes that each part of this amazing organisation bring to it,” Mr Moriarty said.
“It’s important to have a healthy and productive workforce, so we’ve got to look after our people to deliver good Defence outcomes for our country.”
The strategy’s core theme is ‘Fit to Fight, Fit to Work, Fit for Life’.