As activities and events take place over the next week in the Top End and across Australia for Veterans Health Week, the mental health and wellbeing of veterans will be a key focus, with this year’s theme: Mental Wellness.

While each veteran’s experience is unique, veterans are at a high risk of developing depression, anxiety, and PTSD. A 2018 government study found that almost half of veterans experience a mental reaction within five years of leaving the ADF. Since 2001, many more veterans have died by suicide than in combat.

We must do more to support those who have served and made sacrifices for our country; and more for their families.

Being in the ADF is unique in its purpose and can give veterans a different perspective on life; one that at times may not always be readily understood by those in the ‘civilian world’. The transition from a role and identity within the ADF can be challenging and the sudden shift in personal identity, purpose and day-to-day tasks can be confronting and stressful.

The NT DVA office, Open Arms as well as ex-service organisations like Veterans Australia NT with their dedicated volunteers do an outstanding job supporting our veterans community. Despite recent difficulties, the Darwin and Palmerston RSLs also continue to provide support to our local ex-service men and women.

However, more support is needed.

A bipartisan commitment has $5 million in federal funds secured towards establishing a dedicated veterans wellbeing facility for Darwin and Palmerston. The centre will provide connections to mental health and wellbeing services and support, and a place to go for assistance accessing community, state and federal services.

The federal government has appointed a consultant to work with DVA and report on the best location and model.

Territorians deserve and need access to support and services like those living across the rest of Australia, so it is vital that the facility progresses as quickly as possible.

It is also important that the facility is accessible and caters to families, as well as our former service men and women.

This Veteran Health Week, if you know someone currently serving, I encourage you to ask gently caring questions. Don’t feel embarrassed to ask ‘how are you going?’ and be prepared to listen.

By listening alone, you could save a life. And if you’re in the military or have served, take the opportunity to speak openly with your friends and family, especially those who haven’t served. It’s important to bring them into your reality, so they can understand your experiences and be better placed to offer you their support.

Veterans Health Week runs from 26 Oct – 3 November 2019. For more information including events taking place in the Northern Territory, visit: https://www.dva.gov.au/health-and-wellbeing

Open Arms — Veterans and Families Counselling provides support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Free help is available 24/7 by calling 1800 011 046 

This opinion piece was  published in The Sunday Territorian on Sunday, 27 October 2019.