How a phone call from a friend could save a life


A call to action to pick up the phone and check in on five people was personal for retired colonel Ray Martin, who credits a phone call with making him 'pause and think' about his own life.

Data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows ex-serving men's suicide rates are 13 per cent higher than the rest of the community.

Retired colonel Ray Martin is part of the team at Operation Compass working to prevent veteran suicide through connection.

One of the initiatives to receive a rapid uptake by the community has been a call to action to pick up the phone and check in on five people as part of #checkyourmates.

For Mr Martin, developing the campaign was personal.

"Like it does for many of us, life events can catch up on us and I was in a very low point in my life and out of nowhere my friend Walter gave me a call," he said.

"I was going through a combination of separation, not working, a cancer diagnosis and losing another veteran by suicide.

"We just had a chat about life but that was enough for me to pause and think."

Little did his friend Walter know but his phone call helped inspire a widespread campaign urging everyone else to do the same.


Ray Martin
Operation Compass project manager Ray Martin. Picture: Evan Morgan

Mr Martin said the concept was simple and had been part of the fabric of the military forever but that connection could be lost on the outside.

"When you're in the military you check on your mates, that's what you do," he said.

"When you went on your first trip to the bush, for instance, you buddied up with someone and that continued on throughout your military service. We know within the ADF the suicide rates are lower."

A major concern is what happens to veterans when they've left the military, given ex-serving men aged 18 to 24 had a suicide rate twice as high as all Australian men of the same age.

"We asked ourselves 'how do we better connect with each other and get people involved?'. And so we set up this connections campaign for the Christmas break of 2017," Mr Martin said.

"In that previous year (2016) I think we'd lost 75 to 80 people to suicide, veterans across the country.

"Whenever we lose anyone to suicide in our defence family all of us are impacted - we'd had a tough year."

The immediate response to the campaign was better than expected, prompting Operation Compass to relaunch it late last year as a continuous campaign.

Mr Martin said he was stunned by the community's involvement.

"We released 20 videos about the importance of checking in on your mates and we knew we couldn't put any barriers on this. But we were initially stunned by some of the figures," he said.

"We had well over 600,000 engagements with those videos. We've tracked those in Townsville, North Queensland, Queensland, all across the country and internationally they've touched veterans and families across the world."

The three-year trial, backed by the Federal Government and Primary Health Network North Queensland has developed six targeted campaigns based on research by the Black Dog Institute.