Therapies — 17 March 2017

5403254-3x2-340x227The number of ex-servicemen and women, and their families, receiving treatment for mental illnesses is much lower than the general population, according to health insurer Defence Health.

Figures from the insurer show that 61 per cent of depressive disorder claims it processed last year were from people who had no firsthand experience of the Australian Defence Force.

The not-for-profit health fund said it had unique access to this data, given 45 per cent of its 120,000 policyholders had served with the army, navy or air force.

Former army major general Gerard Fogarty, who spent 33 years commanding troops in war zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor, is chief executive of Defence Health.

He said Defence Health had analysed its data to compare ex-servicemen and woman and their families receiving treatment for mental health illnesses compared with those in the general community, after claims that as many as 50 returned soldier­s had committed suicide last year.

Mr Fogarty added that the insurer saw a significant community issue around mental health.

He said its data showed that someone who had served in the ADF had built greater ­resilience than the general community.

“Most of our spend as a health fund on mental health issues is in general community issues, such as depression and anxiety, and it’s not related to military ­service,” Mr Fogarty said.

“We in Australia have this community problem around anxiety and depression and it’s increasing.”

He said there were many ­organisations wanting to help ­returned soldiers but there was a lot of waste and ­redundancy ­because many of the new service­s were trying to do the same thing as the government.

“I’ve been observing over the last 12 months the number of new organisations emerging to try and help contemporary veteran­s,” Mr Fogarty said.

“I’m a little nervous about the rise of the supportive companies.

“Clearly there are people who suffer and struggle after serving but there are very good programs­ and support structures put in place by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to ensure their wellbeing.”

Mr Fogarty said that if a new ­organisation tapped into a veteran­ who needed support, they should steer them to those programs ­instead of trying to provide support that was already available.

The health insurance boss also highlighted that the company­’s benefit spending on mental health had risen by about 35 per cent over the past three years.

“There is no doubt we still have a lot to learn about mental illness and its effects on individ­uals and those around them,” Mr Fogarty said.

This piece was orginally published on ‘The Australian’ March 17, 2017.

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