Serving your country on the battlefield is one of the toughest jobs around. Not only do our ADF members stare down the threat of death or physical harm, but for some veterans, the conflict continues beyond the battlefield.
“Some current serving and ex-ADF members and their families endure ongoing mental health battles.”
Some current serving and ex-ADF members and their families endure ongoing mental health battles like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), health risk behaviours such as increased use of alcohol and medications and other conditions as a result of their service.
Returning to civilian life
Time spent in uniform is much more than just a job – it’s a way of life. After proudly serving their country and trained to be self-reliant and highly capable, the transition back into civilian life can be traumatic in itself.
Some of the challenges may include:
- Adjusting to a new pace. Compared to the highly regimented and structured military life, civilian life can seem very different, chaotic and uncertain.
- Lack of certainty. Most basic needs such as food, accommodation and money were provided when in service, but in civilian life you need to take care of this yourself.
- Loss of camaraderie. Long term friendships based on shared experiences can be lost, leading to feelings of isolation and disconnection. Lack of common ground with those who have not served can make forging new connections difficult.
- Employers not recognising skills. So many of the skills gained in the armed services are highly transferrable, but many civilians may not recognise that yet.
- Feelings of resentment. Some members may harbour feelings of anger and resentment if they left prematurely due to an injury or other reason.
- A comparative lack of excitement can come across as monotony to some veterans.
“I started asking for help and people started helping me. That blew my mind. I felt like I actually mattered. When you start feeling low, get help. It is so much easier to get help when you’ve only fallen down one step, than when you’ve fallen down the whole flight.”
– George, Royal Australian Air Force
Mental health and emotional challenges
We’ve written about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder before as it can apply to the general population, but the unique experience of current and ex-ADF members makes for a particularly tough battle. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs describes PTSD as: “a psychological response to the experience of intense traumatic events, including those that threaten life. For military veterans, the trauma may relate to direct combat duties, being in a dangerous war zone, or taking part in peacekeeping missions under difficult and stressful conditions.” 
The range of mental health and emotional challenges experienced by returned ADF members are essentially a result of different ways of coping with trauma. Some people will recall and re-experience traumatic events of war in different ways, such as when dreaming, thinking or closing their eyes, when using alcohol or drugs and even during normal wakefulness.
Symptoms may include:
- Strong reactions to anything that reminds them of the trauma and avoidance of anything they associate with it
- Inability to form close bonds with loved ones
- Hindrance of future achievements, as they may find it impossible to imagine or plan.
“I found the more I opened up and talked about it, the better it’s been for me… I didn’t think I’d ever genuinely be happy again and have mates like I had in the Army.”
– Justin, Australian Army
So, what can you do?
- Stay in touch: Keep in touch with other people who have or are experiencing similar challenges that can relate to what you’re going through.
- Recognise strengths: Current serving and ex-ADF members are disciplined, reliable and motivated. Useful skills have been developed during service that can benefit many different areas of life, including employment, parenting, being a great partner and many more.
- Set a routine: Civilian life can seem unstructured, so setting a routine can help restore a sense of balance and order. A good routine might involve fitness, family life or other social activities. You can try to find other veterans interested in the same things, who will be more open to routine-driven activities.
- Reach out: Talking up is not a sign of weakness. There are many services available to get help and support. They can help people get back on track and transition to civilian life.
If you need support
Open Arms provides free and confidential 24/7 counselling to anyone who has served in the ADF and their families. Call 1800 011 046 or visit their website for more information.
MensLine Australia professional counsellors support for men with concerns about mental health, anger management, family violence (using and experiencing), addiction, relationship, stress and wellbeing.. Call us on 1300 78 99 78 or access online counselling.
 Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)