“It's okay to put your hand up, it's not a sign of weakness. In fact it takes a great deal of moral courage to say, 'I've got a problem.'”
Any individual who is serving or has served in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is considered a veteran, whether their service was undertaken within Australia or overseas. All veterans with at least one day permanent or continuous full-time service and their immediate family members are entitled to free and confidential mental health support services for life.
The prevalence of mental health issues in the Defence population is similar to the Australian general population. Some personnel in Defence may develop mental health problems whether or not they have operational deployment experiences. However, most people in Defence do not develop mental health problems or mental illness during their career. At the same time, veterans who do experience mental health problems, mental illness, or suicidal thoughts, can and do lead meaningful and productive lives. Seeking help early and engaging in effective treatment can lead to improved outcomes and prevent future problems.
Defence recognises that to achieve its mission to defend Australia and its national interests, ADF personnel are often put in harm's way and as a result, can be exposed to traumatic situations. The risks associated with this service include the risk of psychological harm.
Symptoms may not necessarily be extreme and may be experienced by veterans themselves, their family members, or both. These symptoms may include feeling down for an extended period, feeling anxious in a variety of situations, reduced interest in social interaction and activities that used to be fun, and relationship issues. The sooner individuals take action, the more likely they are to recover. Early recognition and treatment of mental health issues is important for everyone.
Transitioning to civilian life can also be challenging for some veterans. Finding suitable work, adjusting to life after service, and coping with past experiences can be difficult and confronting. However, approximately 5,500 ADF personnel transition out each year with little difficulty.
When people leave Defence, there are many organisations that are committed to supporting them to successfully move on to the next stage in their lives. There are 24-hour help lines, chat forums and online information available through Defence, Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling, major mental health organisations, and veteran-specific support organisations.
Strengthening your overall mental health and wellbeing is one of the most positive things you can do. There are ideas on how to do this in the meaningful life section of this website. We also have information on how to seek support. If you or someone you know is struggling, it is important to take action now. The sooner you begin your recovery, the sooner you will regain your mental wellbeing.
A closer look
ADF personnel are concerned about admitting to mental health issues
A 2018 study has shown that current and former ADF personnel are concerned about admitting to mental health issues. The study showed that they are worried that others would lose confidence in them, that they would be seen as weak, that they would be treated differently, that they would feel worse due to being unable to solve their own problems, and that they would feel embarrassed. Despite these concerns, however, the vast majority of those with mental health concerns took action and engaged in care. Once in care they reported high rates of satisfaction with the services delivered. (Source)
Transitioned ADF personnel can experience a range of mental health issues
The largest study undertaken to examine the impact of military service has confirmed the importance of focusing on helping veterans transition into civilian life. While 84% of the Transitioned ADF were either working or engaged in some purposeful activity after transition from military service, almost half have experienced a mental health issue, with the most common problem being anxiety disorders. (Source)
Recent veterans may have some different challenges
The increase in military operations in recent years has resulted in a new group of veterans with different needs. Modern operations often use smaller contingents over multiple deployments, and conflict can often occur in urban areas with greater contact with civilians. Moreover, overseas operations and training continue to keep people away from their home and family for extended periods. (Source)
Female veterans may have different pressures
More women are serving in the Australian Defence Force than ever before. Particular issues for women include a lack of identity as a veteran (as this is a historically male identity), consequences of time away from their family (especially in relation to children), and being a minority in the ADF; thus experiencing a lack of equality and representation. (Source)
ADF Member and Family Transition Guide can help ADF personnel and their families
As ADF personnel transition back into civilian life, they bring with them unique experiences and skills. However, transition is not always easy. There are organisations and resources that can help ADF personnel and their families with this change. The ADF Member and Family Transition Guide has been developed by the Department of Defence to help and guide people through the transitions process. (Source)
You might find online and phone-based mental health resources helpful. Some suggestions are below. You can find more with our Search tool (opens in a new tab).