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Making Health Better
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Operation Compass Suicide Prevention Project

Prevention through connection

As the only one of 12 federally funded National Suicide Prevention Trials focused on ex-Australian Defence Force (ADF) members and their families, the Operation Compass suicide prevention project is leading the way in mental health and wellbeing support for Australia’s ex-serving men and women.

The project, facilitated by Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN) in partnership with the Townsville Suicide Prevention Network, aims to reduce the rates of suicide and increase wellbeing within the ex-ADF community and their families and to ensure the sustainability of successful projects through integration into long-term local veteran support programs.

Townsville is Australia’s largest garrison city, with approximately 20 per cent of residents belonging to the defence community as either currently serving ADF members or ex-ADF members and their families.

Operation Compass is based on the Black Dog Institute’s LifeSpan model, an evidence-based approach to integrated suicide prevention. The LifeSpan model aims to build a safety net for the community by connecting and coordinating new and existing interventions and programs and builds the community capacity to better support people facing a suicide crisis.

The project is a community-led initiative and has a strong Steering Committee that is Chaired by Lieutenant General John Caligari AO, DSC (retired). Together with an experienced Community Advisory Group, Operation Compass developed six targeted campaigns. These include:

  • clinical support
  • enduring connections
  • data and evidence
  • innovative programs
  • community response
  • evidence-based programs.

NQPHN ex-ADF Suicide Prevention Project Manager Ray Martin said Operation Compass developed a number of projects throughout the 2018–19 financial year which included commissioning and co-design, community action campaigns, education and training, and planning for the sustainability of Operation Compass initiatives.

“In late 2018, we launched the #CheckYourMates campaign, an awareness building community challenge for people to check in with five friends using the Connect, Yarn, and Motivate strategy that brings mental health out of the shadows and encourages candid discussions to help residents stay mentally healthy,” Mr Martin said.

“The campaign promotional videos have reached over 600,000 users on social media and has generated interest from Ex-Service Organisations and others to roll out the campaign nationally.

“#CheckYourMates will also form the theme of a mental health guide being developed by the Townsville Bulletin in collaboration with NQPHN, Townsville Hospital and Health Service (THHS), and Mackay Hospital and Health Service (MHHS), being distributed to community in July 2019.

“We worked collaboratively with Townsville Suicide Prevention Network and Open Arms to conduct a number of evidence-based suicide prevention training programs, including Mindframe Plus training for media and community stakeholders to support safe media reporting, portrayal, and communication about suicide, mental ill-health, and alcohol and other drugs.

“Another focus for the Operation Compass Team during the 2018–19 financial year was the investment in 10 community grants which were awarded to community and veteran groups to provide wellness and resilience projects to improve mental health outcomes for the Townsville ex-ADF community.

“These grants have enabled us to further engage with the ex-ADF community, resulting in us now being able to reach more veterans to get them involved in mental health and wellbeing projects, helping them to live happier, healthier, longer lives. A second round of community grants is currently underway.

“Moving forward, we are working with Open Arms to co-design a neurocognitive pilot program to support veterans and their families who have been identified with, or impacted by, acquired brain injuries (ABIs) and/or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), and is scheduled to commence in late 2019.”

Planning is currently underway to ensure the sustainability of successful Operation Compass projects through integration into long-term veteran support through the Department of Health, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Open Arms, and The Oasis Townsville. The National Suicide Prevention Trial has been extended for all trial sites to 30 June 2020.