Veteran suicide – coping tips for bereaved families Mental health challenges experienced by veterans stem from a multitude of sources. Significant and traumatic workplace incidents and experiences are a common factor, as is the transition from service, back into civilian life. The mental load carried by many veterans can be challenging at best and debilitating at its worst. Knowing how to adapt - from the unique experiences of service to the expected behaviours and routines of everyday life, can be overwhelming and too many – impossible to navigate. Psychologist David Said notes that ‘Veterans often report a loss of identity, loss of purpose and not knowing how to transfer their skills learnt in defence to civilian employment. This can lead to isolation and a loss of self-confidence which is a risk factor for mental health difficulties.’ Sadly, in too many cases, the ongoing struggle results in the tragedy of suicide. In the last two decades, there have been almost 500 deaths from suicide of both veterans and currently serving members of the ADF. That number is hard to fathom, but the impact of each death has far-reaching consequences that change people’s lives forever. For every veteran lost, a community suffers immeasurable pain – from immediate to extended family members, to friends, colleagues and social contacts in the broader community. Those who have loved and lost people to suicide know too well the importance of accessing support and finding coping strategies. Life can lose its meaning, it can be hard to find focus, or purpose in day to day life and the emotional load of grieving can have a debilitating impact. Ask for Help The number one most important thing anyone suffering from this kind of loss can do is reach out for support. This might mean talking to a close friend or family member regularly, calling a support service such as Beyond Blue, or Lifeline, or connecting with a specific support organisation like Open Arms, who provide counselling for veterans and families. For some connecting with their religious community will be important, while for others a local bereavement support group may be useful. Finding the right support for your needs often comes from those who have been through a similar experience. You can talk to us at Carry On to be connected with suitable veteran support options in your community. Focus on Self Care Grief has a physiological impact on the body. People experiencing grief can feel a ‘physical heaviness’ in their body and a loss of motivation to do things they used to enjoy. Thoughts can often be focused on the person who is deceased and sadness triggered. Our brain releases these chemicals to protect us and to help us learn from the situation. Emotions are not weakness, but our brains evolutionary way of protecting and communicating to us that something significant has taken place. Try to sit with your emotions and understand them. It is not weak to cry or be sad when we lose a loved one, indeed it is one of the respectful ways we acknowledge the relationship we had with them. As you navigate the way forward, things like sleep, nutrition and mindfulness become essential tools to wellbeing. Give yourself permission to take time out when you need it and take time off work if possible. Where possible stick to your routines. There are a number of great meditation and mindfulness apps (such as Headspace and Calm) that can guide you through soothing, restoring exercises to stay on top of the impact of grief on your mental health. These also have sleep sections to help you wind down into sleep if you are lying awake until all hours in pain. People around you will feel useless and want to help so let them! Accepting cooked meals and offers for grocery shopping will help you stay fed and nourished until you can manage those things for yourself. Honour Their Memory Nobody is untouched by suicide and it should no longer be the subject of hushed conversations or stories that hide the truth. The person mattered to you and to others and keeping them strong in your memories is utterly dependant on talking about them, sharing stories about them and reminiscing with others who loved them too. Simple ways to honour their memory include rituals on the anniversary of their death each year, an online memorial where people who knew the person can post photos, messages and memories, or maybe a dinner for close friends and family a few times each year in their honour. Suicide loss is traumatic and can result in a range of reactions. Dealing with them in a timely manner can help prevent more serious psychological health concerns into the future. Seek help and support wherever possible, at any and all stages of the grieving process. You can get support from the following organisations: Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14 Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636 Open Arms (free and confidential support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families) – 1800 011 046 ADF All-hours Support Line (for current serving Australian Defence Force personnel and their families) on 1800 628 036 If you are a veteran, know a veteran or are the family member of a veteran who is going through difficulties, you can also contact us at Carry On for guidance and support.