Defence Force Gifts Mental Health Resources to Public Sector’s Frontline

10 May 2018

A series of useful resources developed by the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) to help individuals, leaders, and organisations maintain positive mental health are being shared with the public.

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating was a keynote speaker today at a Government health and safety conference, speaking on the topic Mental Health at the Frontline and from the Centre.

NZDF records show that between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of military personnel will seek support related to mental health through primary health care services in the NZDF each year. By way of context, we know that about one in five New Zealanders will experience mental illness or addiction in any one year, and one in six will report a diagnosis of anxiety or depression in their lifetime.

So the NZDF has been investing in a comprehensive strategy to respond to mental health issues, including developing a suite of resources. It has now produced a “non-military” version of three of these, and today they were given to other public sector organisations. They are:
• Building and Maintaining Positive Mental Health – A Guide for New Zealand Leaders
• Mental Health Pocketbook
• Staying at the Top of Your Game – A Guide for Maintaining Health

Lieutenant General Keating said inside the NZDF it was known that when its people were not tracking well, sometimes it was hard for them to ask for help.

“Ironically the very things that make us successful as a fighting force also make us vulnerable. We encourage our people to be strong, self-reliant and in control – the same attributes that can make it harder to ask for help,” he said. 

“So this is something we’ve been working on. We are reinforcing that seeking help is a sign of strength, rather than weakness. And that early help-seeking will speed recovery.”

“Buddy support” could also be invaluable, he said.

“Mates can help out in pointing out the changes they’ve noticed in our behaviour. So we produced our Mental Health Pocketbook as a tool for having these discussions. It has a list of signs to look out for that might indicate someone isn’t okay – for example, changes in behaviour – as well as tips and helpful resources.” 

The NZDF’s response to mental health is a consequence of a strategy introduced in late 2014, and the detail of the programme was informed by a Health and Wellbeing Survey conducted in late 2016. Key results from that survey were:

• Overall most people were going well, with an overall average “happiness with life” score at 7.5/10.

• However, nearly two-thirds of people reported that one or more life stressors had been a problem over the previous four weeks. The areas with the strongest relationship to psychological distress were problems with sleep, loneliness, exposure to prior stressful experiences, job satisfaction, and finances.

• 23% of people screened as having an elevated level of psychological distress that, if sustained over time, may lead to physical and/or mental health-related concerns emerging. Levels were higher for groups who had never deployed, and rates were comparable between military and civilian staff

This page was last reviewed on 7 February 2019.