Mental Health Resources for Service Families

During the course of a Defence career, serving members will be involved in training exercises in the field and deployments to war-like environments. Although intense and demanding, these experiences are often some of the most rewarding and cherished experiences in a member’s career.

But part of the preparation for these experiences should include preparing for their possible psychological and emotional impacts. Understanding these impacts and how to manage them is critical for achieving a long and fulfilling Defence career. 

Signs of psychological distress

Serving members and their families should also be aware of the signs of emotional or psychological distress they may experience after returning home. This is important not only for the serving member’s mental health and wellbeing, but for the overall resilience of their family unit.
It’s not unusual to experience psychological distress as a result of Defence experiences, but it may manifest in several different ways. Common signs include:

  • irritability
  • intolerance
  • angry outbursts
  • sleep problems or insomnia
  • social withdrawal
  • relationship difficulties.

While these symptoms are indicators of distress in an otherwise psychologically healthy person, they may also be caused by a more complex mental health condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders or alcohol or substance use discorders. Psychiatrists differentiate distress from mental illness by the severity of symptoms and their impact on an individual’s ability to function socially and at work.

PTSD affects the whole family

There are barriers to living with someone who struggles with nightmares, avoids social situations and is nervous and fearful.

If you are a family member or carer of someone with PTSD, you may neglect your own needs or put the needs of others above your own. Children and teenagers can also have similar experiences where emotions, normal actvities and sleep patterns are impacted. Younger children may struggle to understand why their parent or sibling is acting differently, which can cause behavioral or academic issues.

Keeping activities as regular as possible and accessing support through health professionals is important for families when navigating difficult times.

You and your partner/parent having a stronger understanding of mental health is extremely advantageous and resources exist for serving personnel to understand this topic in greater detail. 

However, it is appreciated that psychological distress is a complex subject and one that can be overwhelming and easily misunderstood, so members and partners are strongly urged to attend the Defence Family Toolbox’s forum for ‘Mental health presentations in serving personnel’.   

The forum, focussed on increasing awareness, will be delivered by Dr Andrew Khoo, Medical Director at Toowong Private Hospital and will use everyday terminology to provide general information and answer any questions.


NEED TO speak to someone?

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AT-Ease Website

AT-Ease is the Australian Government's health and wellbeing portal for veterans and their families. AT-Ease provides tailored mental health and wellbeing resources for the serving and ex-serving community. Educational resources are available on topics such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and addition.


Open Arms

Open Arms provides free and confidential, nationwide counselling and support - including group programs - for war and service-related mental health conditions, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and anger. VVCS counsellors have an understanding of military culture and can work with clients to find effective solutions for improved mental health and wellbeing.

Phone: 1800 011 046




Mates4Mates provides support and rehabilitation services to current and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have physical or psychological injuries as a result of their service, and their families.

Mates4Mates programs are all evidence-based and tailored to the particular needs of those accessing them. The expert Psychology Team at Mates4Mates are experienced working with current and ex-serving ADF personnel. Our friendly team offer a range of evidence-based therapies tailored to the individual, couple or family members of any eligible Mate.

Our services include:

  • Counselling services
  • Skills Training in Affective & Interpersonal Regulation (STAIR) Program
    The STAIR program is aimed at assisting Mates to develop skills in emotion regulation and interpersonal functioning for recovery, to improve day to day living.