The Psychological Science Behind Coffee Catch Ups

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 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.

Soldier On Celebrates 5 Years Today


Five years ago today, in a tent pitched on the burned-down grounds of the Canberra Services Club, Soldier On was officially launched. In attendance was former Chief of Army, LTGEN Peter Leahy AC (Ret’d), who today is the chairman of our board, as well as federal politician, Mike Kelly, and a number of current and former serving Defence Force Members.

Media also showed up to find out more about this new charity that wanted to raise awareness of the experiences of our contemporary veterans. Soldier On was featured on the ABC in the morning and The Project that night.

So much has happened in the five years since then.

In the first couple of years, Soldier On was instrumental in raising community and political awareness of the needs of our modern veterans and families. We became trusted by government, veterans, families and the Australian community to provide advice and support. We were paramount in bringing about legislative changes for the betterment of veterans and families.

During this time philanthropists, corporate supporters, community fundraisers and donors rallied behind us. This financial support allowed Soldier On to grow. Just two years after first launchin, we opened Rehabilitation and Recovery Centres in Sydney and Canberra. That same year – 2014 – we hired our first, part-time psychologist and started delivering vital support services to veterans and their families.

The next year, Soldier On expanded our service offering and started focusing on helping veterans build successful futures by offering education and job placement opportunities. This was also the year we started asking: How can we better support veterans and families as they transition from the Defence Force into the community?

Last year was Soldier On’s biggest year of growth. Now with Veteran and Family Rehabilitation and Recovery Centres in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Perth, as well as offices in Currumbin and Adelaide. We also hired an additional six psychologists across the country, as well as a new team of experts to help veterans successfully transition from the Defence Force into the community.

In the same year we launched our world-class Veteran and Family Support Program, which includes our Veteran Employment Initiative, as well as continuing to offer social connected activities and programs and mental health support.

This year is already proving to be another big year, with new offices opened or opening soon in Newcastle and Albury.

Today, five years since we first launched, we are providing on-the-ground support to veterans and families; focusing on employment and education support, mental health support and social connected activities and programs. These support services help veterans and their families overcome any impacts from their service and build successful futures.

But we cannot celebrate our 5th anniversary without thanking all those who have helped build Soldier On to what it is today.

Thank you to the high-profile ambassadors who have helped spread the word about Soldier On. This includes our first and former Patron-in-chief, Corporal Mark Donaldson VC, our current and former Prime Ministers, Sunrise Co-host Samantha Armytage and comedians Hamish Blake, Anthony “Lehmo” Lehmann and Mick Molloy, as well as a number of other people.

Thank you to our corporate supporters and philanthropists for helping Soldier On grow and better support our veterans and families.

Thank you to those who have donated to Soldier On over the years. Your support has allowed us to make a huge difference in the lives of veterans and families.

Thank you to our passionate volunteers who play such an important role in helping Soldier On deliver events, projects and campaigns.

Thank you to our community for rallying behind us – for liking, commenting and sharing our social media posts so we reach more Australians across the country.

Thank you to our dedicated staff who work so hard to provide amazing support to veterans and families.

And, lastly, thank you to the Defence Force and veteran communities for supporting us and allowing us to support you.

Today we are proud of our achievements over the past five years; but more than that we are extremely grateful for your support which allowed us to achieve so much.

Dig deep and support our modern-day veterans this Anzac Day

This Anzac Day, as you honour the memory and sacrifice of the brave men and women who have served our country, please dig deep and support our modern-day veterans and their families by donating to Soldier On.

Click here to donate

Sharon’s Story

Sharon Bown knows the impact of war and peacekeeping all too well.

As a Nursing Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Sharon was deployed to East Timor, Bali and Afghanistan. She has saved lives. She has seen lives come to an end. And she almost lost her own life.

In East Timor in June 2004, Sharon survived a helicopter crash but was left with a broken jaw and a crushed spine. In her own words, she was “broken and banged up”, both physically and mentally. With courage, time and determination, she fought her way back to good health, overcame post-traumatic stress disorder and resumed her duties as an officer in the RAAF.

But her battles were not over.

Less than a year later, Sharon lost her mum to a five-year battle with breast cancer. She also lost friends in a Royal Australian Navy helicopter crash in Nias, Indonesia. Nine of the 11 people on board died in the crash. The crash and loss of life had a huge and profound impact on her. She was only 30 years old.

A few years after that she deployed to Afghanistan as Officer-in-Charge of the second Australian Medical Task Force. Here she placed an Australian flag above the operating table so it was the last thing soldiers saw when they fell asleep for surgery and the first thing they saw once they woke up.

It was during this time, Sharon saw first-hand the devastating toll of war. She and her team worked hard to save lives, but sometimes without success.

Despite Sharon’s determination to continue to serve in the Defence Force, following her helicopter crash her physical condition continued to degrade. In 2015 she was devastated to receive a medical discharge from service. She had served for 16 years in the Royal Australian Air Force and was challenged by the process of transition, as are many veterans leaving the Defence Force.

Sharon turned to the ex-service community for support and now serves as a Member of Council of the Australian War Memorial, and is a Service Ambassador for Soldier On – working to support other veterans in their experience of service.

WGCDR Sharon Bown

(Image: supplied)

Without stories like Sharon’s, it is hard to understand the impact serving in the Australian Defence Force has on our veterans.

According to recent statistics, more than 20% of serving members will experience a mental health condition in a given year, while more than 50% of veterans will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Sadly, in 2016, it was reported 78 modern-day veterans in Australia took their own life.

Soldier On is focused on reducing the rate of mental health issues, unemployment, family relationship breakdowns, alcohol and substance abuse, homelessness and suicide among our modern-day veterans and their families.

By doing this, we can help them build better futures.

But we can only do this with your help. This April we are asking you to support our modern-day diggers and their families by donating to Soldier On.

If you experience distress associated with this email, Soldier On psychologists are contactable during business hours via 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