Defence has taken steps to further strengthen mental health policies for Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel following an inquiry into a sailor’s death on HMAS Toowoomba during a port visit to Mumbai in 2011.
A Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Able Seaman Ewan McDonald found he took his own life on 23 October 2011 as a result of acute distress about his personal relationships.
Defence recognises the unique demands of military service and remains committed to providing personnel with access to high quality health care.
In addition to ongoing efforts to improve mental health services, Defence has implemented three recommendations arising from the Inquiry that related to mental health screening, assessment and management.
Since 2009, Defence has invested $146 million on a range of support programs to help all ADF personnel, no matter the source or cause of their mental health problems.
The ADF has also implemented a comprehensive Suicide Prevention Program to assist members. This program provides information and guidance identifying risk, suicide prevention, intervention and awareness.
One recommendation sought was for members who were known to have previously attempted suicide to be medically downgraded to allow time to identify any potential psychiatric condition. However, Defence will continue to consider the medical classification of serving ADF personnel on a case-by-case basis to encourage people to seek assistance for mental health concerns.
Another recommendation was to consider action against a Defence contracted civilian doctor. Based on the fact that Able Seaman McDonald did not have a diagnosable mental health condition at any time, and had no suicidal incidents at sea or ashore for five years prior to his suicide, no further action was required.
Three other recommendations from the Commission of Inquiry relating to engineering and policy matters are currently being implemented.