Family and partners of current and ex-serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) have been highlighted in a first-of-its-kind study, demonstrating the need for greater support for their mental and physical wellbeing.
Dr Dannielle Post and her team from the University of South Australia and the SAHMRI Wellbeing and Resilience Centre set out to understand how the physical and psychological wellbeing of ADF Carers was affected.
“The study found that Carers of service men and women generally had high levels of distress and lower physical fitness compared to the general population. Carers reported feeling isolated, unsure of who to turn to for assistance and sometimes felt unable to take care of their own wellbeing,” Dr Post said.
“Additionally, they felt there is little understanding of their role in supporting veterans.”
Despite growing awareness of the plight of Carers, the study finds little has changed in their level of support and suggests more interventions are put in place specifically aimed at addressing the needs of this group.
“Programs should include information about psychological wellbeing, increasing resilience, increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary time. Most importantly, interventions and programs should be designed in collaboration with Carers, so that their needs are met,” Dr Post explained.
President of Legacy and former Mental Health Commissioner of South Australia Chris Burns said the study highlights there is more work to be done in supporting Australian Carers.
“Carers are the often forgotten, unsung heroes who support and sustain our service personnel, who have been harmed in the course of their service, through the hardest times in their lives,” he said.
“In caring for our Carers, we need to ensure we listen to their lived experience and co-design the mechanisms by which we support them collaboratively. This research is a key enabler to achieving true co-design and co-production.”
A Personal insight into the life of an ADF Carer
Adelaide resident Haley O’Shea knows the reality of feeling helpless and unsupported after caring for her ex-husband, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force for 20 years.
“I noticed as soon as he came back from Vietnam that he was behaving strangely. He was very withdrawn and easily upset and his moods were getting worse,” Haley said.
“I wasn’t able to keep participating in the activities I enjoyed for myself like art to support my own wellbeing.”
After her ex-husband refused to accept help after being diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, Haley was desperate and decided she couldn’t go through the stress or anxiety brought on by her ex-husband anymore.
“One day I got the courage and left but I didn’t know where to go. No Carer should feel helpless and alone in this situation.”
New South Wales mother Kathy Moore, who cares for her son, an Afghanistan veteran, believes that parents, grandparents, and siblings should also be considered in the narrative of who a family Carer is.
“Obviously, when you’re looking after someone you love dearly who is facing challenges as a result of multiple deployments during their career, it does affect your health, but it’s not always about a handout, it’s about a hand up,” Kathy said.
“Understanding and support needs to start with the Unit Commanders of the ADF for the serving members and their family Carers. Just having someone there who might understand what you’re going through to say, ‘look, I understand how difficult it is’. I am very lucky. I have my husband and my son. We’re a great team.”
Advocates for change
Dr Post hopes the results of the research will advocate for change and help those in a similar situation as Haley and Kathy, providing Carers with easy access to information to support their own physical and psychological wellbeing.
“Despite previous research relevant to this population, it doesn’t appear to have been translated into strategies to support Carers, and more needs to be done,” Dr Post said.
“Interventions that acknowledge and support Carers’ important role in the community need to be developed, implemented, and evaluated, to improve the physical and psychological wellbeing of Carers.”