One of the attractions for many to a career in the Australian armed forces is the security and structure the profession provides. As well as providing training and skills to be able to execute various roles, a career of service also fosters a strong sense of identity and belonging, through the values it instills in everyone that becomes part of the service community.  

 Making the transition out of that environment, back into civilian life can be enormously challenging; a reality underestimated by many servicemen and women until they are in fact going through it. Many will maintain resilience and manage the transition well, while others will struggle initially, gradually finding their feet. Others, however, may suffer in silence for a considerable amount of time, increasing their chance of developing serious mental health issues and even suiciding. The challenges of mental health and wellness for veterans cannot be underestimated, so if you are an ex-serviceman or woman, know one, or are the family member of one it’s worth reviewing these 5 ways to take care of veteran mental health and wellness.

  1. Stay connected through social participation and community engagement

It’s common for people experiencing mental and emotional challenges to retreat and close up because they don’t want to burden others, think they’ll be misunderstood, or believe their problems are insurmountable. It’s essential that family and friends stay connected to their loved one, and that the person themselves makes the effort to be involved. From doing things together as a family such as shopping or eating out, to meeting up regularly with a friend for a coffee, a meal, a walk or a game of pool.

 Finding ways to ‘spend’ the seemingly vast amount of time now available can also be overwhelming. With many service personnel actively engaged in communities all over the world during their service, finding ways to volunteer in their local community after service can be extremely beneficial and rewarding and provide an invaluable sense of purpose and belief.

 Social interaction and inclusion help sustain positive mental health through building connections with others, forming attachments to civilian life, creating networks to allow goals to be developed and worked towards and offering the valuable experience of diverse perspectives on daily life. 


  1. Practicing mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation techniques

One of the top recommendations by specialised physicians to their chronic illness patients in hospitals is daily practice of mindfulness or meditation. This is a far cry from the days when meditation meant bald heads, incense, and funny pants. Activity that requires deep breathing, (which increases the flow of oxygen into your body and brain) and mental focus can ease symptoms of psychological distress, promote a stronger sense of resilience and wellbeing and reduce anxiety and symptoms of depression.

 Numerous scientific studies have further confirmed this, and Apps such as Calm, Headspace, and The Mindfulness App are being downloaded in their millions across the globe because so many people have discovered how powerful the effects can be. Even the simplest of techniques can have a positive effect. Spending a few minutes a day in quietness, taking slow and deep breaths that expand the chest and relax the body as you exhale is a great introduction. The Apps all offer free trials, to begin with so users can find what technique suits them best and for those who prefer a more visual experience, youtube has literally hundreds of videos under search terms such as meditation, mindfulness, relaxation exercises or simply ‘breathing in and out’! 


  1. Recreation and physical activity

A certain level of physical fitness is required for a career in the services and in most cases that standard is maintained throughout the various roles service personnel might engage in. The need for that level of fitness mostly diminishes on return to civilian life, but the importance of staying active should not be underestimated. Physical activity not only reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, it also encourages bone, muscle, and brain health and development, and provides strength and flexibility as we age.

 These physical effects are important, but engaging in recreational physical activity really enhances the impact of the activity on mental and emotional health and wellbeing. Along with encouraging social interaction (see tip 1) and improving quality of life, recreational activity improves self-esteem and has an impact on depression, anxiety and other challenging states of mental health. The activity can be as simple as riding a bike with a friend, or as complex as training hard with a team to be the world champions in your sport. A leisurely game of golf will suit some, while others might prefer a rigorous game of beach volleyball, indoor hockey, training for a marathon or a participating in a regular cycling event with friends.    


  1. Get support

As part of the transition into civilian life after service, veterans engage with their unit or commanding officer to assist with a transition plan. This is developed before they leave the service, then implemented and monitored for about 12 months afterward. It’s also the first stage of support for veterans, transitioning to civilian life. Along with addressing the administrative and logistical needs of the veteran and their family, it also enables veterans to connect to a range of other more long-term support options, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.

 Being committed to positive social and community interaction important (see tips 1 and 3) and the friends and connections you make can provide support in times of need. There also however numerous helplines and counselling services specific to veterans, or available to the broader community that can be useful. Getting support is so important and knowing what your support options are in advance of a crisis could even save your life or the life of someone important to you.    


  • In the case of a mental health crisis or emergency, call OOO.
  • If a person needs to talk to someone immediately but don’t feel they are in crisis:
  • they can call Lifelineon 13 11 14
  • or the Suicide Call Back Serviceon 1300 659 467
  • or Open Arms on 1800 011 046


  • Other useful numbers include:
  • Kids Helplineon 1800 551 800
  • Beyond Blueon 1300 22 46 36
  • QLifeon 1800 184 527
  • For counselling services specific to veterans and their families, with counsellors trained to understand the veteran experience contact Open Arms or take a look at the Operation Life website for more information about suicide warning signs and prevention.


If you are a veteran, know a veteran or are the family member of a veteran who is going through difficulties, it’s crucial to develop a good relationship with a GP as a central point for access to mental health professionals, mental health care plans, ongoing support and confidence and medications, and treatment plans where required.


  1. Download the Operation Life App

If you or someone you know is believed to be at risk of suicide, along with support options detailed in the previous tip, the Operation Life App may also be a useful tool. Developed by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, it should be used with GP or clinical support and is designed to help people dealing with suicidal thoughts. The app offers self-help strategies and connections to emergency support, along with access to resources that may be needed. Features of the app include: allowing users to add contacts into a ‘personal support network’; adding photos, music, text and audio files to a ‘positive reminders’ section and; accessing key actions such as ‘Keep Calm’, ‘Stay Safe’ and ‘Need Help Now’.

 If you are a veteran, know a veteran or are the family member of a veteran who is going through difficulties, you can contact the Australian Government’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs for assistance or contact us at Carry on Victoria and we can point you in the right direction.


Related Articles 

The Challenges of Mental Health & Wellness for Veterans