Soldier On places a great deal of emphasis on social connections as a cornerstone of good mental health. Our experience shows that building supportive social networks promotes the best outcomes for our participants and their families. However, it might not always seem obvious how activities that Soldier On facilitates – like getting together for a coffee at one of our coffee catch-ups, or for a barbeque at a family day – can improve mental health.
One of the main reasons that we do these types of activities is to increase the sense of social connection among current and former serving personnel and among families. This is because we know that loneliness and social isolation are significant risk factors for mental health concerns. Recent research by Cacioppo et al. (2016) has shown that loneliness seems to be both an early warning sign and a contributing factor to mental health difficulties and suicide in military populations. This means that if we work to reduce loneliness and social isolation, we may assist people to reduce their risk of developing mental health concerns. We might also be able to assist people with their mental health difficulties to reduce their symptoms through opportunities for meaningful connection with others.
While social isolation and loneliness can be experienced across the broader community, we know that many of the factors which contribute to feelings of loneliness in serving members are specific to military life. According to the research, factors which can increase loneliness include harassment within the platoon, perceived stress and perceived problematic behaviors within and by platoons. Members at risk of loneliness often have a history of being mistreated, of having unsatisfactory relationships, feeling emotionally strained and not feeling supported in their relationships with others, including within the military.
In contrast, factors which decrease feelings of loneliness include regular contact with family and friends, emotional health, platoon cohesion and support, relationship quality with friends and platoon members.
All areas of Soldier On’s work aim to reduce loneliness and increase social connectedness to improve mental health outcomes for our participants and their families. Research shows that there are military-specific environmental and cultural factors which impact feelings of loneliness. This suggests that just focusing on mental health symptoms alone will not be as effective in supporting the wellbeing of our participants as programs that target loneliness at an individual or organisational level. This is why Soldier On will continue to promote activities that bring people together, and to create genuine opportunities for meaningful connections with others.
Find out about the next coffee catch up near you on our events page.
Just $5 a week is all it takes to help provide more of these social activities to veterans and their families. Sign up to our regular giving program to lend a helping hand to our modern-day veterans and families.
If you experience distress associated with this article, Soldier On psychologists are contactable during business hours via firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, if you would like to speak with someone immediately, including after hours and for crisis support, VVCS is available 24/7 on 1800 011 046 or Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 463.