In June, the Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel, The Hon Darren Chester MP, brought together experts in veteran mental health and suicide prevention for a Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit. The summit looked at enhancing the 10-year Veteran Mental Health Strategy and initiated the development of a National Action Plan to improve veterans’ mental health and wellbeing and to significantly reduce suicide.
The summit highlighted the aim of moving from an ‘illness model to a wellness model’, with the National Action Plan ready by the end of this year.
One priority area for the action plan is to ‘implement improved models of care that provide holistic, wrap-around support, including community and volunteer services.’
Worldwide, there is an increasing focus on the potential benefits of providing holistic mental health care. Complementary treatment approaches such as acupuncture, meditation and mindfulness are all being researched to confirm their benefits for some veterans experiencing mental illness.
“In terms of mental health and wellbeing, there are lots of drivers and determinants. A core driver is quality, evidence-based mental health treatment,” says Professor David Forbes, Director of Phoenix Australia. He is speaking at the national Fearless conference in Queensland in late August about holistic approaches to care.
“But having said that, we are also aware that there are a range of broader complementary activities that can be valuable for people in terms of enhancing their sense of wellbeing, their relationships, and perceptions of their quality of life.
“A lot of interesting research is being done in holistic care, including wellbeing practices such as diet, exercise, reflective practices, and non-medical healthcare such as acupuncture. Holistic care can also include social initiatives, behavioural activation, and activities to facilitate social connectedness.”
says Professor David Forbes, Director of Phoenix Australia
Professor Forbes says the use of assistance dogs are another example of a holistic care approach. Assistance dogs are specially trained to help people with health issues including physical disabilities, autism, PTSD and other mental health conditions.
“There is the idea of just having a pet being good for mental health and wellbeing. Assistance dogs for PTSD are trained specifically to wake people up if they have a nightmare, recognise when their owner is stressed and anxious, and respond to symptoms of PTSD. Dogs also encourage people to get out of the house and to re-engage in social activities. They can be an important facilitator,” says Professor Forbes.
“The potential benefits of holistic care have been recognised for the past decade with the amount of research dramatically increasing in the past two to three years. These broader-based interventions are being systematically evaluated both for their ability to improve outcomes when used as stand-alone interventions, and for their usefulness as adjuncts to clinical interventions.”