MENTAL ILLNESS AND CHRONIC PAIN: A LETHAL COCKTAIL FOR OUR DEFENCE AND VETERAN PERSONNEL
31 August 2022
Mental illness and chronic pain: a lethal cocktail for our defence and veteran personnel
Painaustralia, the peak advocacy group for the one-in-five Australians suffering from chronic pain, has told the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide that chronic pain and mental illness together are a lethal cocktail for military personnel and veterans.
In its submission to the Royal Commission, Painaustralia points out the intractable link between chronic pain and mental illness and suicidal behaviours.
Painaustralia CEO Giulia Jones said we know that there is higher risk of suicide when people live with both mental illness and chronic pain and it is no different in the military and veteran population.
Painaustralia’s submission includes new research conducted by Monash University which undertook a meta analysis of the research into the link between chronic pain and suicidal behaviour in military and veteran populations.
“The research shows serving military personnel and veterans have a higher incidence of chronic pain and depression than the general population, and that means they are at much greater risk of this ‘lethal cocktail’,” Ms Jones said.
“Women veterans are at a higher risk of pain conditions, and they are 115 per cent more likely a suicide risk than the general population.
“Veterans are particularly susceptible if discharged from the military due to medical reasons or involuntarily, and again women veterans are particularly vulnerable.
“This is why Painaustralia is so passionate about this issue and helping this cohort and can assist to establish both best-practice treatment.”
The Painaustralia submission makes 11 recommendations to improve health services for serving defence personnel and veterans.
As a priority, it suggests, chronic pain needs to be recognised as a diagnosable and standalone condition that is affecting the defence community, with specific practices for treatment—particularly as members transition out of the military.
The submission identifies the transition to civilian life as a danger period for service men and women, especially if it has resulted from involuntary medical discharge. There is a not enough support provided to defence personnel who suddenly find themselves out of the services.
“One minute they are part of a huge ‘family’ they have purpose, strong self-esteem, and financial security, and the next they feel they are on the scrap heap and are often waiting for appropriate medical care. Transition is a danger period for many,” Ms Jones said.
“They need support to help them establish life outside the environment they’ve spent their lives in. We need to take proper care of our veterans.”
Ms Jones said more needed to be done for defence and veteran personnel who have had physical injuries and are often stigmatised.
“There is as an intolerance of medically unfit people and as a result there is a weaponisation of the administrative processes against these people, especially women.”