ADF mental health services ‘underfunded’

A review of mental health care in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has found there are not enough resources or staff.

The independent review by Professor David Dunt found mental health problems remain stigmatised in the ADF and the wider community, and there are many barriers to seeking care.

The Federal Government says it will act on 49 of the 52 recommendations and the remaining three have been partially accepted.

About $80 million will be spent over four years to address the problems identified.

A leaked copy of the report admitted soldiers returning from war were not receiving adequate treatment for mental health problems.

Experts estimate that up to 10 per cent of combatants returning from the Middle East and Afghanistan may be suffering long-term mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Defence Science and Personnel Minister, Warren Snowdon, and the Veterans’ Affairs Minister, Alan Griffin, said the review assessed the extent to which the mental health needs of serving and transitioning ADF members were being met.

“The report highlights the successes and gaps in the delivery of mental health programs and transition services and makes 52 recommendations to improve and extend those services,” Mr Snowdon said.

“Implementing the recommendations will ensure our current and ex-service personnel have easier access to best practice mental health services. Preventive activities will be delivered by staff dedicated to mental health promotion and multi-disciplinary health teams will ensure holistic care that also considers the needs of families.”

Professor Dunt says the ADF’s mental health strategy is admirable but under-resourced and understaffed.

He has recommended more training on mental health issues, better screening after personnel come back from deployment and a significant change to the way mental health services are provided.

“We need to have more psychologists on base particularly. We need to have a greater involvement of doctors,” Professor Dunt said.

“I think that all these different people need to work in multi-disciplinary teams at the base, at the regional level, at the national level and also here in Canberra at the policy and planning level.”

The implementation plan has 10 elements that will provide improved mental health governance and policy. They include: more mental health staff; increased mental health training for ADF personnel and providers; enhanced prevention strategies including better research; improved mental health rehabilitation and transition services; and better facilities for mental health services.

Mr Griffin said while many of the recommendations can be acted upon immediately, others will take several years to achieve.

“Both DVA and Defence will report regularly to the Government on their progress in implementing the recommendations,” he said.

“This Government understands the importance of robust and effective mental health support services. With more than 25,000 troops having served overseas since 1999, we must remain focused on ensuring both departments support the growing needs of our current and ex-service personnel.”

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