When someone you care about is going through a rough patch, it can be hard to know what to do or say. Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling has been encouraging people to check in with five mates, but not everyone finds it easy to talk.
Luckily, there are resources and strategies available to help you talk to and care for a loved one.
Open Arms offers free access to LivingWorks Start, a one-hour online program that teaches participants how to recognise when someone is thinking about suicide and how to connect them to professional help and support.
Providing a safe space for someone to talk is important, though this might feel like a daunting task. Before you look out for others, you need to look out for yourself. If you’re not in the right headspace or you don’t think you’re the right person to have the conversation, try to think of someone else in their support network who could talk to them.
Remember, when arranging a chat, plan the location, listen carefully and follow up on both their and your own wellbeing.
Plan a time to talk without interruptions and have the conversation in private. You might find it helpful to talk while engaging in another activity, such as playing sport, washing the dishes, cleaning the yard, going for a walk or having a coffee.
To start a conversation, keep it simple and direct. You might say: I’ve noticed X, Y and Z recently ... Are you ok?
Just be yourself and take the time to listen. Listen to the person without judgement and reassure them that you care.
Actively listen to their answers. You do this by listening, reflecting what they’ve said, and seeking clarification: It sounds like you’re feeling angry because of XYZ, am I right?
Take what they say seriously and don’t interrupt or rush the conversation. This is not the time to argue with them, to tell them you know how they feel, or try to solve their problems. This is the time to listen, reflect and clarify.
Encourage them to explain: How are you feeling about that? or How long have you felt that way?
If they need time to think, sit patiently with them in silence. Allow them time to vent if they want to. Don’t be afraid to allow silence.
While it is important not to jump to solutions or try to ‘fix their problems’, where appropriate it is useful to be positive about the role of professionals in getting through tough times.
You could say: It might be useful to talk to someone who can support you. I’m happy to help you find the right person.
Reaching out to a professional can feel like a daunting step, so you might want to offer support for the person to do this. For example, you could choose a support person together or offer to make an appointment or take them to it.
You can also encourage them to reach out to Open Arms. Open Arms is available 24/7 by calling 1800 011 046. The service is free and confidential and there is always a team member available who understands the military experience.
The Open Arms website also offers a range of self-help tools that can help you or the person you care about feel calm, take some time out and think more clearly about a situation.
Open Arms is also the host of an anonymous 24/7 support line – Safe Zone Support – which was created to help vulnerable veterans and their families who might not otherwise seek mental health support due to concerns about protecting their identity – including those in the Special Forces. Safe Zone Support’s specialist counsellors can offer help to veterans and their families without needing to know who they are. Calls to 1800 142 072 are answered 24/7, and are not recorded. For more Information visit: openarms.gov.au/ safe-zone-support.
Your GP is another good place to start, with tailored health checks available for the ex-serving community, and the ability to direct your family member or friend to the appropriate professional care.
Put a follow-up reminder in your diary to call them in a couple of weeks. If they’re really struggling, follow up with them sooner.
You could say: I’ve been thinking of you and wanted to know how you’ve been going since we last chatted.
These types of conversations can be stressful to have, so you should seek help for yourself and debrief if required.
For immediate help when life may be in danger, call 000.
We encourage all veterans and their family members to square away their mental health and check in with 5 people in their lives. Connect with them, yarn with them and motivate them to act. See the Open Arms website for more information.