“Shocking” deep sea divers suicide risk: Royal Commission

There are suicide fears for deep sea divers working in high-risk environments after a survey found that 140 clearance divers had thought of taking their own lives, a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has heard.

Chairperson of the Navy Clearance Divers Trust, Denise Goldsworthy, told the ninth public hearing into Defence Force suicide rates that the survey results were alarming.

A woman standing in front of a window posing for the camera
Mother of Veteran who suicided in 2019, Julie-Ann Finney, holds a photo of her son outside the Royal Commission.
Photo: Melody Jelfs.

“Most shockingly, 40 per cent of survey respondents had thought of suicide, and over two-thirds were concerned their colleagues were at risk of suicide, it’s extremely worrying,” Mrs Goldsworthy said.

Clearance divers are a select group of deep sea divers who work in high-intensity, high-risk environments.

In 2021, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a report on suicide rates among ADF members, finding between January 2001 and December 2019,  1273  serving and ex-serving ADF members died by suicide.

The Royal Commission was first established in 2021 after fears of the frequency of suicide in Australia’s Military personnel and issues affecting the mental health and welfare of current and ex-members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

The ninth public hearing began is held in Perth.

National Ambassador of the Royal Services League Peter Rudland said it was interesting to hear a focus on the Clearance Divers perspective.

“Clearance diving is a unique element of the Defence force, and the Trust has some great ideas on how to move forward to improve their well-being and mental health,” he said.

Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. Photo: Melody Jelfs.

Julie-Ann Finney Finney’s son David took his own life in 2019 after serving 23 years in the Royal Australian Navy.

Mrs Finney has attended all nine public hearings across Australia to share her son’s story, and said the ADF has to take responsibility so those who have served are okay once they return to life after service.

“We have to change things, defence is in disaster. We need to start listening to the veterans and their families. We will be fighting and we will be loud,” she said.

The Perth hearing will continue until Thursday next week, then will head to Adelaide to commence its 10th Hearing.