Father seeking changes to Navy policy

Hayley Goddard, SOUND TELEGRAPHSound Telegraph

Methamphetamine and alcohol abuse at HMAS Stirling is a symptom of mental health issues, claims Mark Addison whose son Stuart took his own life in 2012.

In February, Mr Addison launched a petition, via change.org, calling for the Australian Defence Force to add a clause in its contract of service that would waiver the Privacy Act in circumstances where self-harm was evident, and for next of kin to be notified immediately.

Mr Addison was adamant family support should be a requirement in the treatment of someone who was mentally ill, especially after learning his son had attempted suicide twice and he was not told.

"I feel like I would have had a better chance at talking him down," he said.

"Drinking and drugs is a symptom of depression - depression is the one we have to treat and it should be treated with every resource available, including family and friends."

Mr Addison is questioning the Royal Australian Navy's guidelines given its Counselling Client Information Sheet stated confidentiality would be broken if there were any issues relating to harming one's self and someone else.

However, a Department of Defence spokesman said the ADF was bound by the same laws regarding patient confidentiality that applied to all medical practitioners.

Mr Addison said of the 70,000-plus people who signed his online petition, a number were professional psychologists and psychiatrists who were disgusted that the family were not involved.

"It's a safety net we need in place," he said. "The spirit of the regulation is to protect people not put them in harm's way.

"Why would you leave out someone who was such an influence on these people's lives?"

The department spokesman said since 2009 it had invested about $140 million into mental health services and support for its members, including regional mental health teams, rehabilitation consultants and access to additional specialist mental health professionals.

He said Defence recognised there was still reluctance from ADF members to seek help for mental health issues and there was a misconception within the organisation that seeking help for such issues would limit future career options.

"Defence is working to educate and inform ADF members that seeking help is the right thing to do and that doing so will not necessarily affect your future career options," he said.

The ABC's 7.30 Report last week highlighted the issues of drugs, alcohol and mental health at HMAS Stirling when it disclosed that in the space of two years five sailors took their own lives and families were kept in the dark.

Mr Addison said learning about the culture at HMAS Stirling and that his son took the drug ice, he ascertained a "spiralling tunnel of self-worth" was common among the sailors.

He said 90 per cent of the navy's practices were of the highest quality and attributed them to making Stuart a better man, but he also believed it trapped him because he no longer enjoyed his job and wanted out.

"If the navy is not for you, especially after four years, then you should be allowed to get out," Mr Addison said.

A department spokesman said at the time of the incidents the navy initiated a mandatory intervention which required all boatswains to attend a suicide awareness program.

He said the navy had revised procedures for alcohol management and enforced random testing procedures.

I feel like I would have had a better chance at talking him down. Mark Addison

If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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