Swiss 8 a digital program that helps veterans reduce anxiety

Veterans develop program for soldiers coming out of service to promote mental health after combat with Swiss 8 app

Hands on help: Adrian Sutter, of Swiss 8, says their digital program has been built by veterans, for veterans, with the aim of reducing anxiety. Picture: Simone De Peak

WHEN Adrian Sutter left Newcastle to join the army, he found his “tribe”.

The soldiers trained together, they ate together, and when they fought on the front line together, they trusted each other with their lives.

But once they left the routine, the discipline, and the mateship of the military, Mr Sutter said many young combat veterans could lose their sense of purpose.

He said up to 75 per cent of veterans suffered anxiety and depression within the first two years of leaving service, and the stakes were high.

“Since I left full time service in 2012, I have lost six mates to suicide,” Mr Sutter said. “Which is just too many. One was too many.”

Mr Sutter said he used to catch up with his army mates a couple of times a year. For ANZAC Day and buck’s shows, mostly.

“A few beers in, everyone would start talking about how they were riding the mental health roller coaster after service,” he said. “You need to find something to keep you distracted, otherwise you can get depressed real quick. I started a couple of businesses, which kept me going for a while, but it was just a band-aid.”

When one of Mr Sutter’s closest mates, Jesse, took his own life a little more than two years ago, he became frustrated by the current “reactive” model of mental health care. He said by the time they admitted they needed help, it could take close to a year to find an appropriate therapist who also accepted the Department of Veterans’ Affairs “white card”, which entitles the holder to treatment for accepted injuries or conditions caused by war.

Mr Sutter founded the health promotion charity, Swiss 8, in the hope a proactive approach might save other soldiers from the grief of burying their mates.

Swiss 8 has since developed an app – with input from the University of Newcastle – that is designed to deliver an easily accessible program to keep veterans healthy – mentally and physically, inside and out. Mr Sutter said the university would first research whether the app’s holistic approach can prevent declines in the mental health of combat veterans. If it proves effective, they will look at expanding the study to include “civilians”.

“You transition out of the military and, at the moment, you’re pretty well on your own after that,” he said. “You’re in one day, and you’re out the next. But the current care model is all reactive.

“What we’re trying to do is get this stuff in people’s hands before they even leave so they have a proactive model to go to. ‘This is what the guys before me have said happens, and this is what the research says, so instead of waiting for my mental health to decline I’m going to start following these principles now and stay in a positive head space’.”

They want to keep the app free for veterans, so they are looking for donations and corporate sponsorship.

James Garvey, the director of Williamtown Aerospace Centre, said it had been a “no brainer” for them to support the start-up charity.