A recent report from the Black Dog Institute shares learnings and recommendations from Operation Compass, a veteran-focused suicide prevention program developed and run as part of the 2016-2021 National Suicide Prevention Trial in Townsville, Queensland.
The report, Prevention through connection: supporting veterans to thrive when their service ends, was informed by seven in-depth interviews exploring the experiences of the Operation Compass project team to capture their learnings with the aim of informing future suicide prevention efforts within the veteran community.
Operation Compass utilised the LifeSpan Systems model to co-design more than 20 suicide prevention projects across six campaigns for the Townsville veteran community. The program was guided by a veteran lived experience advisory group and steering committee with representation of veterans, Australian Defence Force personnel, mental health specialists, police and other emergency service workers, Open Arms and the Townsville Suicide Prevention Network.
Five key recommendations emerged from the interviews:
- Incentivise wellbeing: give ex-serving veterans access to services that emphasise wellness, and provide a reason to engage with and support others as part of their own recovery.
- Maintain momentum: create report commissioning processes that are realistic to support and maintain momentum and outputs.
- Invest in local lived experience and peer support: adjust processes to acknowledge the value of lived experience advice, of veteran-to-veteran trust and of peer-led support spaces.
- Empower Primary Health Networks: provide data on the number of veterans within local areas and build relationships between Primary Health Networks and veteran-focused organisations.
- Commit to longer-term funding: develop approaches for suicide prevention to support the quality, quantity and sustainability of outcomes.
Ex-serving veterans have significantly higher age-adjusted suicide rates than the general Australian population. Ex-serving males are 24% more likely to die by suicide and ex-serving females are 102% more likely (or about twice as likely) compared to other Australian males and females, according to a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The National Suicide Prevention Trial was launched in 2016 at 12 sites across Australia, funded by the Commonwealth Government and led by Primary Health Networks to develop local suicide prevention activities. Each site served one or more priority population considered to be at increased risk of suicide. Northern Queensland Primary Health Network was the only trial site to develop targeted interventions for ex-serving veterans and their families.
Head of Implementation for Black Dog Institute, Janey McGoldrick, welcomed the report and approaches developed, including the use of lived experience and peer support.
“We encourage all Primary Health Networks and Veteran Wellbeing Centres throughout Australia to learn from this work and consider what can be applied to their veterans’ communities,” Ms McGoldrick said.