Young Australian diggers with mental health problems are being let down by the federal government because most of its programs don’t work.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) offers a range of small mental health programs and initiatives, but the message was not getting through to Australian Defence Force (ADF) members, an external audit by the Australian National Audit Office has found.
“A number of these measures were introduced as part of a package of mental health reforms funded through the 2006/07 budget,” its report, released on Friday, said.
“Overall, these small programs and initiatives have been of limited effectiveness, with a number of evaluations and reviews highlighting the need for DVA to more effectively target them.”
Young ADF members were particularly at risk of having a mental health disorder, with many leaving the service with undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions.
“These young ex-service members are particularly at risk of not receiving the mental health treatment they need, as they do not necessarily maintain links with the ADF or engage with DVA after they leave the military,” it said.
DVA had been aware of the communications challenges for more than five years, but the 2006/07 budget measures had not been fully implemented.
The audit office also said mental health policies should be handled by a new branch to improve the reliability of the department’s data, which currently underestimates the number of younger veterans with mental health conditions.
More than half of ADF members had experienced a mental health disorder at some stage in their lives, at a rate of 54 per cent compared to 49 per cent in the broader Australian community.
Of the $5.1 billion spent on mental health services in 2007/08, $142 million was earmarked for DVA programs and initiatives. That amount rose to $160 million in 2009/10.
The report said while mental health service spending had been significantly boosted in the last decade, about 65 per cent of Australians with a mental illness did not access support services.
A 2010 study of mental health problems in the ADF found the figure was likely to be higher for serving Defence members and veterans, who were often reluctant to report a problem because it might reduce their prospects of deployment.
The report cited a former commander of Australian forces in Afghanistan who said cultural and attitudinal factors inhibited ADF members from seeking assistance.
“What worries me though is that the vast majority of people coming home hide these problems,” the commander said.
“No one encourages them to hide them; it’s built into the psyche of the young warrior.”
As first appeared on Nine MSN, 22 June 2012