A Message from Soldier On’s Director of Psychology Services, Dr Michelle Buchholz

The article released today highlights the incredibly important issue of veteran mental health and suicide. This is an extremely important issue, and one that I work with regularly in my role as a Clinical Psychologist for Soldier On, working with veterans and their families.

If you are feeling distressed, if you can’t stop thinking about the issues raised in this article, or if you are thinking about or planning suicide, it is so important that you seek help. These feelings and thoughts can pass, and it is possible to start feeling better, especially with assistance and support.

Often people feel really hesitant about seeking support, and about talking to a doctor or a psychologist about what is going on for them and how they’re feeling or coping. It can feel really confronting to say to someone you might not know particularly well that you’re having a tough time.

It can be helpful to remember that you are not alone. These doctors and psychologists work with people having difficulties in their lives every day, and genuinely want to help you to start feeling better. They don’t just work with people who have a mental illness, either; they also work with people who are stressed or having relationship difficulties or who are having a tough time at this moment but don’t necessarily have a mental health condition.

Reaching out for assistance is not a sign of weakness. It takes courage to ask for a hand. One thing I hear a lot, especially from current serving clients is that they are worried about the impacts on their career if they ask to see a psychologist. What I would say is that sometimes, seeing a psychologist will help to prevent harm to your career, especially if your symptoms escalate and you’re having trouble completing your duties day to day.

The reason that I encourage people to seek support and treatment for mental health concerns is because I know that it can work and that it can bring relief. Counselling is not just talking about your feelings. Mental health professionals can help you to understand your symptoms, and show you that you’re not “going crazy” and that there is a way forward. They also can help to teach you new skills to help improve and protect your mental health. These are skills that we don’t tend to learn anywhere else in our daily lives, and can help you to deal with negative thoughts and feelings, and bring you out of dark places.

I also want to highlight that there are lots of options for seeking help that you can start to access right now. Soldier On has psychologists in the ACT and in NSW. The Veterans and Veterans’ Families Counselling Service (VVCS) also offers services with counsellors, and has a 24-hour contact number in case you need assistance outside of business hours. And if you speak with your GP, they will also be able to refer you to a suitable clinician, usually under Medicare or DVA depending on your circumstances.

Please don’t wait, please start the process of seeking assistance. Your mental health is so important and there are people who can assist you to find your way forward, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.