Suicides of Australian Sailors Expose Substance Abuse, Bullying Issues In Navy

By McCarton Ackerman 05/11/15

Substance abuse and bullying has become a serious problem among Australia's navy personnel.

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The tragic suicides of five Australian sailors has shed light on a much broader issue of alcohol, drug abuse, and bullying within the Australian Navy, prompting the families of those lost to demand action.

The five sailors either were or had been stationed at the West Australian port HMAS Stirling off the coast of Rockingham, near the city of Perth. Families of the deceased did not learn of their loved ones' history of drug use on the ship or previous suicide attempts until after their deaths.

The wife of one sailor who died of a suspected drug overdose, Karley Livingston, claims she went to his commanding officer upon first learning that he had a drug problem well before his death. However, she claims the officer treated her like a “stupid navy wife” and directed her elsewhere.

Former sailor Matt Henry, who was friends with several of those who committed suicide and also tried to take his own life at one point, said that binge drinking and crystal meth use were regular occurrences throughout HMAS Stirling. In some cases, the drug use was a means to cope with the trauma of severe bullying on the ship.

Brett Dwyer, who took his own life while serving at HMAS Stirling, was reportedly once dangled overboard by his legs by shipmates. His family had no knowledge that he was on psychiatric medication to treat depression.

“What they did was wrong,” said Mark Addison, whose son, Stuart, hanged himself while he was on-shore in leave 2011. “They think of him as a number. He wasn’t a number. He was our son.” Mark has since started a petition, urging Prime Minister Tony Abbott to allow families of military personnel access to their medical files when there is evidence of self-harm.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.