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Commemorating the ANZAC Day spirit

Updated: May 7, 2023

On the 25 April 1915, approximately 70,000 soldiers, landed at Gallipoli. The mission: Drive through to Istanbul, take Turkey out of the war, and provide supplies to Russia in its fight against Germany.

This was the first major battle in the First World War, for Australian and New Zealand soldiers, who made up 20,000 of the troop, and of whom only 8,600 would survive. Of those who returned, many were diagnosed with "Shell shock", a condition we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

8700 brave Australians and 2700 New Zealanders were killed at Gallipoli, along with many other brave souls on both sides of the battle. One year later, the Acting Australian Prime Minister, George Pearce, named 25 April ANZAC Day, a day to commemorate the lives lost. Today, ANZAC Day is a memorial day for all Australian and New Zealand individuals who have served and died. Officially the defence force notes that ANZAC DAY speaks to the ideals of courage, endurance and mate-ship. I believe, it also speaks of service and honour. For ANZAC Day also now honours those who have died of suicide. Those brave souls who have sought to silence their pain.

Between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2018, suicide by members of the Defence and Veteran community, enlisted for at least one day from 1985, is believed to total 1273 people. That is more than one person every single week. This number, includes my brother Dan, who died by suicide January 19 2014.

It is not possible to accurately report on data for people who died of suicide before this date, or serving period, due to the availability of data, the inconsistency in reporting and the fact that in Australia there is no legislative definition of suicide.

I learnt this from reading the preliminary report drafted by the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, published 11 August 2022.

This report and investigation, in the words of Commissioner Kaldas "acknowledges the lives lost. We acknowledge those who made an attempt on their life or are vulnerable to suicide. And we acknowledge the bereaved by suicide"

Commissioner Brown, who interviewed me last year, states "Our role as this Royal Commission, is to identify the real root of the problem, or problems, that are leading so many to think about suicide, attempt suicide, or to take their lives, because they perceive, and believe, that there is no other option. We intend to work with compassion, focusing on understanding and accountability"

Having experienced the private interview process, I can contest, that the process is one of respect and honour. The compassion and support was exceptional, as the team took a trauma informed approach to the pre, during and post interview process.

The interim report provides a number of immediate recommendations, with a number of these relating to the protection of people who are speaking out as part of this commission. This saddened me, but did not surprise me. Many of the factors, which I believe to have contributed, to my brothers death, related to the culture in the ADF at the time. The interim report then goes on to provide observations in the following areas

  1. Suicide prevention and lifetime wellbeing

  2. Data and suicide prevention

  3. Coronial matters

  4. Families

  5. ADF Culture

  6. Transition from the ADF

  7. A possible permanent entity with certain oversight responsibilities and powers

Recommendations are not yet provided however detailed analysis and quotes for each area are included in the publication.

With US Research showing that each death by suicide directly or indirectly impacts over 135 people, tis means that over 171,995 Australian lives are impacted by suicide in the defence and veteran community. Drugwatch in the United States recently posted an article in which they outlined the five signs of emotional suffering in a veteran for family members to look out for. They include:

On this ANZAC Day, I ask you to pause and reflect on the honour and sacrifice of our defence and veteran community. Take time to talk with members of this community, check in on them, and ask them to share stories, memories and experiences. Ask if they are OK. And if you have lived an experience of suicide by a defence force member or veteran in your family or friend network, please do register today, and speak at the Royal Commission. It is a safe, compassionate and carefully considered experience.

My brother Dan, called me his north star. The truth is, he was, and always will be mine.

Lest we Forget.

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