Suicide is not an easy topic to talk about. Even in news stories about people who have taken their own life, reporters and journalists are reluctant to detail how. They instead say something like ‘the death is not thought to be suspicious.’ We used to think not talking about suicide made it less likely.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, between 2002–2017 the age-adjusted rate of suicide in ex-serving men was 18% higher than among Australian men. Many factors are associated with the higher suicide risk for suicide in veterans - including chronic pain.
Painaustralia recently provided input into the first stage of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran’s Suicide. This stage asked for input on the Terms of Reference (TOR) for the Commission’s work. The consultation on the TOR closed on 21 May 2021 and received 1299 responses.
This part of the Commission’s work focusses on what issues should be considered in the scope of their work. The Commission will examine the systemic issues and any common themes in past deaths by suicide of Australian Defence Force members and veterans, and the experience of members and veterans who may continue to be at risk of suicide.
From the Commission’s website: ‘This includes all aspects of service in the Australian Defence Force and the experience of those transitioning; the availability and quality of health and support services; pre-service and post-service issues for members and veterans; members’ and veterans’ social and family contexts, such as family breakdown, as well as housing and employment issues for members and veterans.’
We know that chronic pain significantly contributes to poor mental health. We know that a significant number of veterans live with pain from injuries caused by improvised explosive devices and weapons that inflict severe impacts on heads, necks, spines and limbs. Pain is also common in veterans who have experienced several injuries, and it is often accompanied by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
One such potential outcome from service is musculoskeletal pain, which is one of the most common reasons for medical discharge from the armed forces. It is the number one reason for discharge from the British Armed Forces, while in the US a survey of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan found that almost 57% now have compromised musculoskeletal systems.
So where to from here? The importance of hearing from all stakeholders: Australian Defence Force members, veterans, their families, the Government and other stakeholders means that the Royal Commission is expected to require 18 months – 2 years to complete its work.
Painaustralia is fortunate to be informed by many others who have served in Australia’s defence forces within our networks and also have lived experience of chronic pain. Their experiences tell us that pain related to their service can be a silent and at times unbearable contributor to reduced quality of life and suicide.
During this Royal Commission we welcome anyone who has served or is serving in the defence forces and living with chronic pain to reach out to us and share your experience. You can remain anonymous if you prefer, but we’d like to hear your story so it can inform and strengthen the experiences we present to this important Royal Commission.
We know this is not an easy topic to talk about, but staying silent is not an option either.