Mental health tips for veterans

A range of strategies to address mental health for veterans and their family members, including numbers you can call today for assistance if you need.

At a glance:

  • The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide shows that prioritising mental health is essential for the wellbeing of veterans.
  • We’ve outlined hotlines designed specifically for veterans and the family members of veterans.
  • Being proactive about understanding mental health can mean knowing risk factors and encouraging prevention.
  • Another helpful technique is joining a community of like-minded people who have a good understanding of your experiences.

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide shows that prioritising mental health is essential for the wellbeing of veterans.

According to Mental First Aid Australia, a non-profit that develops mental health training programs, changes in lifestyle – think starting a new job, moving to a new suburb or transitioning out of Defence – can have a large impact on mental health and connection with community.

RSL NSW is committed to supporting the wellbeing of veterans – regardless of their length of service – and the network of people around them. Here are numbers you can call today for assistance if you need, and a range of practical strategies to assess and improve mental health for veterans and their family members.

Make a call

This article discusses Defence and veteran suicide and other issues that may impact veterans. If any of this raises issues for you, don’t go through it alone – help is a call away.

The following numbers are designed specifically for veterans and the family members of veterans:

  • Open Arms 24-hour Support Line (1800 011 046)
  • Australian Defence Force (ADF) All Hours Support Line (1800 628 036)
  • Defence Family Helpline (1800 624 608)

Other general helplines include:

  • Lifeline 24/7 Crisis Support (13 11 14)
  • Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467)

Access resources and networks

Open Arms provides counselling for individuals, couples and families; group treatment programs and educational workshops; peer advisory; and a range of self-help tools. Although the service was founded by Vietnam veterans, it now exists for all veterans and families.

RSL NSW’s charity partner RSL LifeCare Veteran Services offers on-the-ground support for veterans via Veterans’ and Families’ Hubs; free advocacy, claims and appeals support that assists veterans making a claim with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs; and a range of wellbeing activities such as the Spur Equine Program.

Although not specifically geared towards veterans, the Australian Government’s Head to Health outlines information that educates about living well and dealing with unexpected events, and aims to connect individuals with health professionals.

After a short assessment, your local GP can set up a Mental Health Treatment Plan for you or a family member.

Addressing mental health can sometimes form part of a more holistic effort.
At the National Centre for Veterans’ Healthcare at Concord Hospital, Navy veteran and RSL NSW Liaison Officer Bronte Pollard assists with connecting veterans to services including pain management, drug and alcohol health, psychiatry, and rehabilitation medicine.

Take a proactive approach

According to a Mental First Aid Australia report, being proactive about understanding mental health involves knowing your ‘risk factors’ and encouraging prevention and management of your mental health.

This can be especially important for older men; the report states that older men have “a unique set of impacts that can increase their risk of poor mental health outcomes, social isolation and suicidality”.

Risk factors – triggers that may adversely affect your mental health – could include:

  • Changes in relationship status
  • Changes in your financial situation
  • Physical illness or pre-existing health issues

Encouraging prevention, therefore, includes:

  • Building strong social networks
  • Participating in community
  • Staying active in mind and body
  • Learning new skills
  • Connecting to culture
  • Maintaining a growth mindset

Attend an RSL sub-Branch event

Another helpful technique is joining a community of like-minded people who likely have a better understanding of your past and current experiences than the general public.

At a recent event held during Veterans’ Health Week, members of the St Marys RSL sub-Branch gathered for a walk along the Nepean River, a short talk from a local psychiatrist and a healthy lunch – all designed to get a conversation started among members about the importance of mental health.

Whereas Veterans’ Health Week in previous years has focused on topics such as physical wellbeing and eating healthy food, the theme of this year’s Veterans’ Health Week (8-15 October), was mental health.

The RSL NSW Sport & Recreation Program, too, now in its second year, is a social connection and wellbeing program inclusive of all veterans and their families. RSL sub-Branches across NSW have organised family-friendly social activities that get the community involved, foster bonds of camaraderie and promote physical activity.

Whether you’ve served for a single day or decades, RSL NSW welcomes veterans of any service length and background to join the organisation. Access support services and become part of a community of peers by becoming a member of RSL NSW.

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