Military personnel are trained extensively to look for signs of danger in different environments and relate to the external world in a certain way. This conditioning can make everyday interactions with civilians difficult and can result in some veterans preferring to live in rural and remote areas. However, as with anyone living remotely, this remoteness means that isolation is increased.
Isolation is an avoidance behaviour. The avoidance for veterans is likely of crowded areas, civilians themselves and other anxiety-provoking situations. While living remotely may allow a veteran to feel safer and calmer in the short term, it will likely exacerbate their symptoms in the long term, increasing anxiety and hyper-arousal (feeling on edge and heightened). The more we avoid situations that make us anxious, the more the brain learns to avoid all similar situations in the future. Therefore, situations that were once not anxiety provoking, can become so.
Isolation can be an emotional precursor to suicidal thoughts and actions for those who have exited the Defence Force with increased feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and depression due to a loss of an occupation, support system and connection.
There is currently a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, looking at the culture and systemic issues faced by Australian Defence Force members and veterans that too often result in loss of life to suicide. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, suicide rates for male veterans are 24 per cent higher than the general Australian population and 102 per cent higher for female veterans.
Living remotely can provide a barrier to managing mental health challenges, including through difficulties in accessing resources and health facilities like psychologists, general practitioners (GPs) and other services. This can have negative consequences for a person's mental health, as mental illness that is left untreated will likely worsen.
Three pieces of advice for a veteran who may be experiencing isolation:
- Speak to your GP. They are in a position to know what services might be available in your area, or telehealth services that might be accessible.
- Explore telehealth psychology services. There have been increases in telehealth services, including psychology, since the pandemic. Research has found that psychological services delivered via telehealth are as effective, or more effective, than in-person sessions.
- Sometimes a psychologist can have long wait times and there can be hurdles to jump in order to get to that session. There is a range of counselling support available that could be helpful while getting your referral for a psychologist or waiting for your initial session. These services could include Mates4Mates counsellors, Open Arms and Lifeline 24-hour phone lines, MensLine Australia and myriad online services such as Beyond Blue.
With a team of psychologists, exercise physiologists, counsellors, social workers and liaison officers available for telehealth and online services, Mates4Mates can provide a way forward for current and ex-serving Defence Force members and their families living remotely who are experiencing service-related physical injuries, mental health issues and isolation.
If you’re a veteran or family member, impacted by service, make the call that makes the difference on 1300 4 MATES (462 837) or visit mates4mates.org.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and need immediate support, contact 000 or attend your nearest hospital. For 24-hour support, phone Open Arms: 1800 011 046 or Lifeline: 13 11 14.