A veterans support group is urging Australians who pause for a minutes’ silence to honour fallen soldiers today to go a step further, and take an extra minute to reach out to a mate.
Soldier On says nearly 15,000 men and women who have served will battle mental health issues as a result, and half will not seek support.
Their subsequent breakdowns have resulted in a suicide toll three times that of Australia’s combat losses in Afghanistan, which left 42 dead.
There has also been a four-fold increase in post-traumatic stress disorder cases since Australian troops first went to war in Afghanistan in 2001.
“These are incredibly saddening statistics,” Soldier On’s chief executive John Bale, himself a former soldier, told the ABC.
As Remembrance Day is marked across the country, Mr Bale hopes to highlight the ongoing mental health issues faced by many returned soldiers.
Noting that today can be tough for veterans as it stirs up painful memories, Mr Bale urged people to “take a minute to remember, and a minute to take action”.
“Take one minute to remember the ultimate sacrifice made by so many, and then take one minute to remember the recently returned veterans and the challenges and struggles they face,” he said.
“Support those who have been in contemporary conflicts — so East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq, and also the peacekeepers and Australian Federal Police officers that support the troops.”
He noted his message did not just apply to the family and friends of former soldiers.
“If you don’t have a personal connection to a veteran, just reach out to your mates. You never know who might be struggling,” he said.
“We are asking people to connect with others — make sure their mates know they are there, and know they are not walking alone.”
Mr Bale helped found the independent Soldier On after the death of a friend, Lieutenant Michael Fussell, in an IED blast in Afghanistan in 2008.
“We noticed his family got incredible support from the community and from government organisations,” Mr Bale said.
“But there was a lack of an organisation to support those who’d been physically or psychologically wounded in that same incident.
“We want to use a positive message to create a positive mindset that supports veterans to get back into the community.
“Soldier On is about communities coming together to support our wounded. It’s about mateship.”
A Senate inquiry examining the mental health of Defence personnel is due to report back in February 2016.
This article first appeared on ‘ABC’ on 11 November 2015.