Nine Australian soldiers have taken their own lives in just three weeks amid the release of a damning report into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
The findings were outlined in a major report into alleged Australian war crimes.
It's believed the stress of the inquiry played a part in the suicide of nine soldiers
Eight male and one female soldier - aged in their 20s to 50s - committed suicide
Afghanistan war veteran Private Shane Holt took his own life on November 16
The recent deaths aren't related and don't have direct links to war crimes inquiry
The four-year inquiry uncovered a 'shameful record' of unlawful killings which took place outside the 'heat of battle'.
A redacted version of the report was released on Thursday after weeks of discussion about its contents, and sparked fierce global condemnation.
In just the past three weeks, one female and eight male soldiers - aged in their early 20s to 50s - have taken their own lives.
There is no suggestion that any of them were involved in the alleged war crimes documented in the report, but it is feared that the stress of the inquiry and surrounding furore could have played a part in some of their suicides.
So many soldiers taking their own lives in such a short space of time is believed to be unprecedented in recent Australian military history.
'I think some of the media [reports of alleged war crimes] has been painting everyone with the same brush and people seem to have forgotten about innocence until proven guilty – and that adds additional stress,' ex-infantry soldier and veterans' mental health advocate Neil 'Wally' Wallace told The Advertiser.
A psychiatric federation today warned investigators and ministers to be 'mindful of the mental health issues and possible trauma' that the public inquiries could cause.
The publication of the report 'has resulted in a strong focus and scrutiny of military personnel,' said John Allan of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.
'Ensuring justice, accountability and transparency for the victims and their families of the alleged war crimes is critical,' he said.
'However, it is important to acknowledge that the high level of scrutiny and stigma that serving ADF and ex-serving members are currently facing as a collective could have lasting mental health effects, particularly given that they may already be experiencing effects from having served time on deployment.
'Unfortunately, our ability to compartmentalize things, hide our emotions, and continue fronting up and being a warrior, in the face of extreme adversity, and taking the highs and lows of life in our stride takes its toll.'
The most recent suicide took place last Thursday. The recent deaths aren't related and don't have any direct links to the war crimes inquiry.
'The number of suicides in such a small time frame is unprecedented – it's unfathomable,' an ex-Australian Defense Force member told the Courier Mail on the condition of anonymity.
'We are absolutely speechless. And these are only the Defense members and veterans that we know of, and does not take into account the number of suicide attempts that have been occurring.'
At least 56 veterans have committed suicide since this year alone, up from 40 in 2019.
Adelaide Army veteran Nathan Bolton said the numbers are 'tragic and devastating'.
'Things are happening to address mental health in the ADF but it's not happening fast enough and too many are still being left behind,' he said.
In recent years, a series often-brutal accounts have emerged about the conduct of elite special forces units - ranging from reports of troops killing a six-year-old child in a house raid, to a prisoner being shot dead to save space in a helicopter.
Another incident involved two 14-year-old boys who were stopped by SAS, who decided they might be Taliban sympathizers.
The boy's throats were allegedly slit and their bodies bagged and thrown in a nearby river.
One of the killings was described in the report as 'possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia's military history' but details were completely redacted.
'I can't speak to the particular circumstances,' Australian Defense Force chief Angus Campbell said.
'That is why it is redacted. But Justice Brereton does describe something that is utterly disgraceful. It is right that it needs legally to be redacted. In time, in the time of history to be written, it is shameful.'
Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan's High Council National Reconciliation, slammed the alleged murders.
'There is no way to define this brutality. There is no way to explain what has happened. It is incomprehensible,' Mr Abdullah told the Anadolu Agency.
'These are crimes against innocent people, and I was shocked. At the same time, the Australian government has come very clear with it - about what has happened.
Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson told Al Jazeera Afghan victims deserve swift and independent justice for the 'deliberate and cold-blooded killings'.
'Ultimately, if we're talking about accountability, this should not just stop with the people who pulled the trigger and killed these people in Afghanistan,' she told the BBC.
'This is also about command responsibility and so I think that it's very important that those who knew or who should have known are also held to account and are held criminally liable for these acts.
'Because ultimately, this was a culture where killings were normalized, in some cases, encouraged. That culture really needs to change.'
Defense Minister Linda Reynolds on Friday said the disturbing allegations of 'absolutely clear-cut murder and war crimes' made her feel 'physically ill'.