War on suicide fires up veteran
AN UNOFFICIAL Australian Defence-related suicide register recorded 85 deaths last year, a figure one young Townsville veteran wants to reduce drastically in 2018.
The Warriors Return Inc has been researching, maintaining and updating the country's only unofficial register of ADF-related suicides for a number of years with the help of affected relatives and other members of the community.
According to their records, at least 85 veterans or serving personnel are known to have taken their own lives in 2017, 48 of whom they believe were clients of the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
That overall suicide figure is up from 80 in 2016 and 47 in 2015.
By comparison, 41 military personnel were killed in Afghanistan during 13 years of war.
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"They only way things are going to change for future generations is by us making a stand now and the only way we are going to do this is by talking about Suicide, and not hiding it or being ashamed that your Brother, Sister, Mother, Father, Son or Daughter has taken their life (sic)," their latest Facebook posts read.
Townsville veteran Phillip Thompson, 29, said the figures were a tragedy and personal.
Mr Thompson, Queensland's current Young Australian of the Year, was injured by an improvised explosive device while on deployment in Afghanistan in 2009.
That was the same year his good friend Private Benjamin Ranaudo was killed by an antipersonnel explosive.
Last year, he lost another good army friend, former private Jesse Bird, who took his own life.
"It hurts and it does hit home," Mr Thompson said.
"I have lots of friends part of those figures and it makes me angry we are not doing more.
"Suicide is not just a Defence and veteran issue, it's a societal issue."
Mr Thompson said he had been using his AOTY platform to speak to as many people as possible across the country to identify gaps in mental health support.
He said, overwhelmingly, veterans and their families wanted more peer-to-peer support.
"There has to be a ground-up and holistic approach so we need to break down some numbers like genders, ages and conflicts and look at matching people up with similar experiences," he said. "Peer support happens in the community every day when people call a mate for help but we aren't tracking that. It is about building on something we are doing well and putting structure around it."
Mr Thompson said the veteran community would closely watch the progression of Operation Compass, the Townsville-based federal suicide prevention project, as the community wanted to see it succeed.
"I think we need to stop working against each other, because that will drive us forward to then be preventing worsening rates of mental illness and suicide," he said.