Talking about mental fitness – it’s OK

We hear a lot about physical fitness and its importance for good health. Mental fitness is just as important, in fact physical and mental wellbeing are closely related. Mental fitness and emotional wellbeing allow us to recognise our strengths and abilities, to cope with the stresses of life, to build strong relationships and to contribute to our family and community. It means we can enjoy life.

Mental fitness is more than the absence of mental health conditions. It affects every aspect of our lives, how we feel about ourselves, how we feel about others and how we meet the demands of everyday life. You can take steps to improve your mental and physical wellbeing.

Both our physical and emotional wellbeing can vary from day to day. We all experience life’s challenges and stresses, but being mentally fit gives us the resilience to bounce back when times are tough. Building strong relationships, enjoying a healthy lifestyle and developing coping strategies can promote mental fitness, both now and in the future.

Mental health problems are common in the Australian community; about one in two Australian adults experience a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at least once in their life.

Thinking about your mental fitness – it’s OK

Many veterans adjust successfully to civilian life, but for some the experience of transitioning from full time service can be stressful and challenging. It’s OK to question your own mental health, to recognise when you have a problem, and to know where to go to seek help.

Returning to civilian life is a major change in lifestyle for both you and your family. It can affect the mental health and wellbeing of the whole family as stresses and challenges arise. It can be a struggle to understand your feelings. Talk to a friend or loved one, someone you trust who is a good listener, or attend a support group for friends and family. Sometimes professional help is required to help you get back on track. Take action.

Staying physically and mentally fit is a goal for all of us. The following simple strategies can set up good habits to help build confidence and resilience and get more out of life.

  • Set goals and enlist a peer or family member to help monitor your progress
  • Aim to be active every day
  • Enjoy a balanced diet and limit alcohol intake to low risk drinking
  • For your general health, don’t smoke
  • Develop good sleep habits (see Topic 18 - The good sleep guide)
  • Learn a new skill, interest or hobby
  • Connect with others; join in community activities such as volunteering
  • Set time to do things you enjoy such as going to the beach or having a coffee with friends
  • Mindfulness, an awareness technique, can help with negative thoughts and emotions
  • Consider strategies to relax and unwind, such as yoga or meditation

The excellent interactive resource ‘High Res’ (www.at-ease.dva.gov.au) is part of the Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) At Ease portal. It can help with problem solving, building support, helpful thinking, getting active, keeping calm, and sleeping better.

Recognising when help is needed – it’s OK

Seeking help early is important. It’s a way of empowering yourself, not a sign of weakness. Talk to your GP to determine what support you need. He/she may recommend psychological support or counselling, or in some cases, medicines. If you are a former serving member, you can also access a health assessment from your GP. A Medicare rebate is available for this assessment.

Answering the following questions may help you decide when to seek help:

  • Have you felt sad or depressed most of the time lately?
  • Have you been feeling anxious or had distressing thoughts most of the time lately?
  • Have you had trouble working or meeting your daily responsibilities?
  • Have you had problems in your relationships, or trouble taking care of the family?
  • Have you increased your use of alcohol, illicit drugs or prescription medications?
  • Are you having trouble sleeping?
  • Are you having trouble eating, or have you gained a lot of weight?
  • Are others concerned about you?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, consider talking to a health professional.

See your GP or call the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS, www.vvcs.gov.au), available 24 hours a day on 1800 011 046. VVCS provides specialised, free and confidential counselling to Australian veterans, peacekeepers and their families.

If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else talk to your GP or contact VVCS, www.vvcs.gov.au. Phone 1800 011 046.

If you are severely distressed or thinking of acting on your thoughts of self harm or harm to others, call 000 or Lifeline (13 11 14), or go immediately to the nearest hospital emergency department.

NOTE: DVA can pay for treatment for diagnosed PTSD, anxiety, depression, alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder, whatever the cause. The condition does not have to be related to service. This is available to anyone who has deployed on operations overseas, and many who have served for more than three years at home. These arrangements, known as non-liability health care (NLHC), can help with early intervention through treatment to lessen the impact of a mental health condition.

More information about these arrangements is available from http://www.dva.gov.au/health-and-wellbeing/treatment-your-health-conditions

Keep an eye out for your own mental wellbeing as well as that of your family and mates.

Seeking help – it’s OK

Working with your GP to develop a treatment plan specifically for you might include referral to a mental health care professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. Often more than one person will be involved in your care. Your health care team can help you to:

  • develop a step-by-step approach to problem solving
  • help manage day to day challenges
  • challenge negative thinking, promote a positive and realistic view of yourself and your situation
  • build strategies to establish a routine.

Sometimes medicines may be needed long term; sometimes medicines are needed short term. Be guided by your GP and be aware of the things you need to know to make an informed medical decision. If your treatment plan includes a medicine, ask:

  • What is the name of the medicine and why has it been prescribed?
  • When should I start the medicine?
  • How often and how much do I take?
  • When might I start to feel better?
  • What are the possible side effects and what should I do if I experience any?
  • When should the treatment be reviewed?
  • How long will I have to take the medicine?

If taking a medicine, be sure to take it as prescribed, and for the time agreed as outlined in your treatment plan, even if you are feeling better. Not taking your medicine(s) may cause a relapse.

If you need help, it is important to reach out to others. Help is out there. Help can make a difference.

Useful Resources about mental fitness

The DVA At Ease portal is for serving and ex-serving members, veterans and families – a portal that helps to recognise the symptoms of poor mental health, find self-help tools and advice, and learn about treatment options. www.at-ease.dva.gov.au/veterans

DVA mobile apps:

  • The PTSD Coach Australia app can help you learn about and manage symptoms that commonly occur after trauma*
    *Mobile apps available free for Android and Apple devices.

  • The Right Mix – DVA’s alcohol management site that provides practical information and strategies to raise awareness about alcohol-related harm and achieve the ‘right balance’ with alcohol, diet and exercise, www.therightmix.gov.au

Other DVA resources:

  • Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS), www.vvcs.gov.au: 24 hour confidential support. Phone 1800 011 046
  • Operation Life Online – a website to raise awareness about, and help prevent, suicide in the veteran community, www.at-ease.dva.gov.au/suicideprevention
  • YouTube videos - ‘Don’t Suffer in Silence’ is the key message in a series of online videos about the impact of mental ill health on current and former serving personnel and their families, www.youtube.com/DVAAUS or via the DVA Facebook page, www.facebook.com/DVAAUS

Other help is available from:

  • beyond blue: www.beyondblue.org.au
  • Lifeline: phone 13 11 14
  • National domestic violence hotline: a 24 hour confidential hotline. Phone 1800 737 732
  • NPS MedicineWise provides options for using a medicines list to help keep track of your medicines. www.nps.org.au/about-medicines-list

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