An exciting new project that will help inform Defence and Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) policy by examining the health and wellbeing of Australian Defence Force(ADF) members who have transitioned from service in the last five years.  In addition, this research program will include the long term follow-up of deployed and non-deployed defence service personnel.

In a grant from The Repat Foundation, Predicting Mental Health Among Australian Servicewomen: Risk and Resilience, Dr Ellie Lawrence-Wood, Research Fellow at the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies University of Adelaide, has been investigating how deployment impacts on mental health outcomes including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among ADF members.

Extending on this work, Dr Lawrence-Wood has joined Chief Investigator, Dr Miranda Van Hooff, on this new project, the Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme, allowing for long term mental health outcomes to be examined.  Data collection for this new study will continue until around November 2015.

“It’s really important to know how these people are tracking and how they access available services to predict how they are going to function in the future,” Dr Lawrence-Wood said.

“This research goes across the whole defence force – army, navy and air force. It is quite interesting because there are differences between each service. For example, the air force personnel are not on the ground and in combat situations as much.”

Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies at the University of Adelaide Research Team.
Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies and the University of Adelaide Research Team.

Conducted on a national scale, the project is surveying around 45,000 defence service men and women across the country. Each participant may also elect a family member who will be involved in the study at a later date and Dr Lawrence-Wood says that examining the impact of military service on families will be very interesting.

“It’s so great that we have access to these enormous datasets and the support from the Repat Foundation has allowed us the time to really examine this information,” she said.

“This research will inform policies around the screening of people pre and post deployment and the varied types of prevention methods that can be used.

“We have a really good relationship with all areas of Defence and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, so we know that by translating our findings into policies, they will have a direct impact.”

Dr Lawrence-Wood says it is interesting that to date they have found there is no difference in rates of PTSD between people who have been deployed or not.

“This really is quite complicated as Defence obviously have a very rigorous screening program so those at risk of PTSD are screened out before deploying.”

On an international scale, Dr Ellie Lawrence-Wood believes Australia is right up there and leading the way with using diagnostic tools to determine the prevalence rates of PTSD.

“The things that we are investing in now are certainly tracking highly with the rest of the world, particularly our analysis of the physiological changes these people undergo.

“We are also trying to coordinate what we are doing with other countries because we can take their findings into account.”

A passionate advocate for the defence community, Dr Lawrence-Wood believes grants like this from The Repat Foundation help to ensure research is continually advancing in the area of veterans’ health.

“I’m aware the community can feel like nothing is happening in this space, but there is a lot going on in the background.

“This sort of research moves slowly, each finding needs to be validated and shared internationally.”

“It’s really exciting stuff and critical in ensuring we look after the health of our veterans and their families,” she said.