What 'square away' means to Pip

Reaching out to people is not invasive
By Philippa W

Throughout my life my family has always been a part of the military. When I enlisted in 2003 after finishing my degree in Psychology, I became the fourth generation in my family to serve.

Having grown up in and around the military, I have seen first-hand the different impact that service can have on people. There are many benefits from being part of the military community, however, I have also observed the impacts on friends and family when mental health issues are not addressed.

During my three deployments and over 17 years of service, I worked with hundreds of soldiers that were managing trauma or significant changes in their lives. The most important thing I learned from this was that seeking help does not always mean going to therapy.

Support takes many forms and no two people, or traumas, are the same. While formal therapy can be an important part of looking after mental health, small things like family gatherings or connecting with groups of people with a shared life experience can also be incredibly therapeutic.

Getting squared away has always been a part of my life. My family has used the term for as long as I can remember. For me, it is as simple as getting all your ducks in a row. Anything that could be a distraction during deployment is resolved before you leave so that you are not worrying about it while you are away.

I like to think about experiences in life as files, every time we go through something or have an experience we get a new file. These slowly start to build up until something topples the pile and everything comes crashing down. Finding ways to support your mental health is getting a filing cabinet, so you can take the time to review a file, understand it and file it away so that if it pops out at some point you know what it is and how to deal with it.

Identifying the right support systems for a person is critical to preventing all their files from toppling over.

Some people need the objective insights that therapy can provide, while others do better in a group setting or speaking with their peers. In every case though, you are getting an outsider’s view of the experiences you have lived through to help you understand them and manage some of the emotional charge they may hold.

At Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling, we work with people from every part of the military. In fact, a large percentage of clients we support are family members and carers of veterans.

I think the most important thing anyone can do for friends and family is to speak up when they are acting out of character. When people start to get aggressive, or quiet, moody or pensive to a degree that does not align with their normal behaviour, it is often because they are dealing with something and could use some support getting squared away.

Helping your friends and family find the right setting where they are comfortable opening up about the mental challenges they are facing will catch the pile of files before it starts to fall.

About Philippa

Philippa joined the Army in 2003 as the fourth generation in her family to serve. Over the next 17 years she served as a Psychologist, Acting Chief Health Officer - Forces Command, and Commanding Officer 1st Psychology Unit. Philippa deployed on three operations to provide counselling services to military members on the front line during active duty. She joined Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling in 2020 as the Director for South Queensland, with the aim of continuing to help Australian veterans and their families.

About 'Square Away'

When you serve in the ADF, you’re part of a team that always has your back, and that doesn’t change when you leave. But to help others, you need to look after yourself first. We’re encouraging current and former-serving ADF members and their families to reach out to Open Arms and begin the journey to square away the things that are important to you. With a 24/7 helpline, online self-help tools, peer to peer support, training programs and more – we’ve got your back.

Find out more: openarms.gov.au/squaredaway