When a different person comes home
Deployment affects everyone differently. As the family member of a veteran, you're in the best position to notice subtle behavioural changes that may indicate bigger issues.
When a serving member is deployed overseas (or is away for long periods during training) the whole family can be affected.
Family members left behind have to deal with missing the serving member, worrying about their safety and often have to make big changes like adjusting to being a sole parent. Older children often step up to take on more responsibility, like providing more care for younger siblings. As military postings often mean being relocated all around Australia, families may miss out on regular support from friends or family.
Once a member returns home, there will be an inevitable period of re-adjustment for everyone.
Having adjusted to new roles in the serving member’s absence, family members aren’t always willing or able to readily go back to the way things were. Having to re-adjust to the civilian world can make it hard for many members to get back into family life.
Some ADF members may also be dealing with mental health problems that can have an impact on other family members.
How mental illness affects families
When someone develops a mental health condition it can have a big impact on the whole family.
Mental health problems can affect a person’s ability to be an effective parent. For example, depression can mean people have little motivation or energy, and struggle to spend time with the kids. People can become irritable and less patient with children, or not feel confident enough to set limits.
Children who have a parent with a mental health condition are more likely to experience a range of problems themselves. These can include behavioural problems, difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships, poor coping skills and problems with school. They're also more likely to develop mental health problems which can continue into adulthood.
Mental health problems can also have a significant effect on partners and parents. Supporting someone with a mental health problem can put partners in stressful and difficult situations, like having to cope with angry outbursts, excessive alcohol or substance use, or suicide threats or attempts.
Partners often take on additional responsibilities at home and have to make changes to the family’s routine and lifestyle. This can lead to serious strain in relationships, can make closeness and intimacy more difficult and may even isolate the whole family from valuable social support. This can put partners, parents and other family members of veterans with a mental health problem at increased risk of experiencing a mental health condition themselves, including depression and anxiety-related conditions.
There is a big difference between feeling angry a lot of the time and being violent. Sometimes people might not recognise aggression and violence when it is happening.
Violence can include things people do, things people say, threats and intimidating acts. It can also mean making people do things they don’t want to do, or preventing them from doing things that are important to them.
Some questions you might ask yourself to see if your family has a problem with violence include:
- Do you feel afraid of your partner or family member?
- Do you feel like you need to avoid certain topics or ‘walk on eggshells’ so that you don’t set your partner or family member off?
- Does your partner or family member make you feel like you can’t do anything right?
- Do you believe that you deserve to be hurt or treated badly?
- Do you feel helpless or emotionally numb?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you and those close to you might benefit from getting some help. People can change angry, aggressive and violent behaviours with support; a good place to start to call Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS) on 1800 011 046.
Excessive drinking and drug use can affect partners, children and other family members as well as the individual themselves. As a family member, it might be helpful to think about what role you can play in supporting your loved one as they try to cut back their drinking or drug use, and remember that you might also need support during this difficult time.
We can’t force people to change behaviours like drinking or drug use. Here are a few tips that might help you talk about the issues :
- Convey your concern about your loved one’s drinking or drug use but try not to argue about it as it may make them more determined not to change.
- Try to support and encourage behaviours or changes that are helpful or healthy, rather than criticising the behaviours that are unhelpful or unhealthy.
- Feel free to express your opinion, and be sure to listen when they express theirs.
- Your ability to help and support depends on how you are travelling – sometimes it’s helpful to have someone to support you as you support your family member.
- If you feel that your family member’s drug or alcohol misuse is putting you or your family at risk seek immediate help and, if necessary, leave the situation.
If your alcohol or drug use is becoming a problem for you or those around you, there are strategies and tools you can use to get it under control.
If your behaviour or habits are becoming a concern because of the impact they are having on your life, it's time to seek help.
Anger becomes a concern if it is expressed in ways that are harmful to ourselves or someone else, or if it persists for a long time. Violence can be deadly.