An evidence-based guide has been published to help military and first responder families
An Australian-first guide has been published to help military and emergency service families support their loved ones struggling with mental health from their service, a vital step forward that will have significant impact for service families.
The six-point guide has been developed from research led by Professor Sharon Lawn from Flinders University, in partnership with Military and Emergency Services Health Australia (MESHA), the University of Western Australia, and the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
It explores how family members can feel disconnected and invisible, often unsure how to help their loved ones experiencing a mental health concern.
This research details a deep understanding of distress and moral injury that is experienced not only by the service member but is transferred vicariously to their family during the mental health help-seeking journey. A moral injury can occur in response to acting or witnessing behaviours that go against an individual’s values and moral beliefs.
“Families play a vital role in supporting the wellbeing of veterans and emergency service personnel; they experience what goes on ‘behind closed doors’ in daily life,” said Prof Lawn.
“When trying to seek help, families don’t always feel supported or that they can easily access veteran or emergency service agencies. Equally, the role and experiences of families may be invisible and unacknowledged by these agencies.
“This gap needs to be closed and through our research, we have developed two guides, one for the families about how to help their loved one and the other for health professionals on how to engage with the families throughout the service member’s help-seeking journey.”
Associate Professor Miranda Van Hooff, Executive Director of MESHA, who was also an investigator for this research, said the guide will help families understand more about supporting their service members in seeking help, something that is an overdue resource.
“This guide was developed based on research interviews with service family members, so the recommendations are not only evidence-informed but will be extremely valuable from the lived experience perspective,” said A/Prof Van Hooff.
“It will provide a better understanding on how service family members can help their loved ones and is based on advice from one service family member to another.
“One of the key findings from Prof Lawn’s research is that families are struggling with moral injury as they feel it’s difficult to access help from the right places and feeling let down by the services, given the duty owed to their service members’ health and wellbeing.”
The guide highlights six important things that family members of someone in the military or emergency services need to know:
- The job is different from other jobs
- It is important to look out for and acknowledge the early warning signs
- Seeking help for a service member can be very difficult for them to get their head around
- Helping your service member to find a GP and other health professionals they can trust is critical
- The ongoing support you provide is essential to their journey of recovery
- In supporting your service member, it’s important you monitor your own health and wellbeing and look after yourself.
Families at the Forefront
Allira Newlands, the wife of former South Australian police officer, knows first-hand the challenges faced by not knowing how to help a loved one struggling because of their service.
“When my husband and I were going through the process of trying to access programs, services and support, there was very little available,” Allira said.
“Unfortunately, support isn’t readily available for family members to access as most services are specifically for the service member. I think it’s extremely important that the research recognises that the families are supporting their service members with zero training – they need help and resources too.
“This guide is an important first step in acknowledging the challenges faced by service families and will be helpful in providing broad advice to family members on how and when to seek help.”