THE Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has heard of the terrible ripple effect of suicide that touches not only loved ones and family but the whole Australian community.Suicide impacts entire community, defence and veteran royal commission told – The Catholic Leader
THE Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has heard of the terrible ripple effect of suicide that touches not only loved ones and family but the whole Australian community.
“135 people are directly or indirectly impacted by each individual suicide,” expert witness Nikki Jamieson explained on Day One of commission hearings in Brisbane.
Ms Jamieson’s own son, Private Daniel Garforth, took his life at just 21.
“If we’ve got over 3,000 people dying each year by suiciding in this country, that’s over 450,000 in this country impacted by suicide every single year.
“And a large portion of them… have been veterans and defence members.”
Since her son’s death in 2014, Ms Jamieson has dedicated her time to suicide prevention.
She has completed a Masters in Suicidology, a PhD in veteran suicide and believes her son might still be alive if the Australian Defence Force had acted on his pleas, claiming he was bullied and ridiculed by some senior officials and described as a malingerer, prior to his death.
She broke down as she described how her son suffered “endless torment” by his chain of command, yet despite numerous red flags that he was in serious trouble, the army did not contact her or any external organisations for help.
“He was described as catatonic by the very chain of command that was threatening him … he told people he was fearful of going to work, he was withdrawing from friends and colleagues.”
Ms Jamieson told the commission that she was unaware that her son was “struggling” as a soldier, and while stationed in Darwin had become isolated away from his family support and home in Queensland.
“It was here [Darwin] where his mental health started to show a significant decline,” she said, adding that there is never one simple factor that causes suicide, rather it can result from a complex mix of risk factors.
A day before his suicide Daniel punched a wall in a fit of rage and had to be taken to hospital.
In his suicide note the next day he said he could no longer bear the pain.
“Suicide is the end game,” Ms Jamieson said.
“Suicide happens when the situation needs to change but people cannot see the opportunities for change – they feel trapped.
“They don’t feel like they have another option. And that was the case for Daniel.”
Ms Jamieson has called for greater access to support services for struggling soldiers – both inside and outside of the military – and an “opt out system”.
“Had I had a hint from Defence that he was struggling in the way he was struggling I would have been on the next flight up there and taken him home myself,” Ms Jamieson said.
“He was fearful of leaving the defence system, he was fearful of being chased or court marshalled or having further charges laid or chased for being AWOL – this needs to change.
“If people want to leave let them leave. What other employer in this country do you know, if you don’t like that position that you are in you can’t walk out and say ‘goodbye’.”
Late today, the commission heard from a panel of witnesses from support organisations, including Michael Stone, Program Director, for the Veterans Care Association.
Mr Stone told commissioners about the work of Timor Awakening, a holistic health and wellbeing program for veterans.
The centrepiece of the program is a 10-day trip to East Timor that builds camaraderie between veterans, offers care and support, and engagement with the Timorese people, especially their own former guerrilla fighters and veterans.
Mr Stone talked about the success of the veteran program in combating suicide ideation, although the programs are not government funded and rely on sponsors.
“We’ve got no guaranteed funding despite going for six years… our intent is to demonstrate that holistic health and peer-mentor programs run by veterans, run by veterans families… is very effective and can be done on scale throughout Australia.”
“It has to be meaningful, it has to be engaging, and really a key part of it is establishing trust.”