Partners and carers of veterans often prioritise the needs of another over their own. It’s important that partners feel supported to look after their own health and wellbeing.
Spouses or partners of veterans with service-related injuries can experience their own mental health challenges as a result of the circumstances of military life. Partners are also less likely to engage in preventative health measures due to their responsibilities as a carer.
Partner or carer burnout
Often the partner or carer of a veteran who has been heavily impacted by service, takes on a large share of responsibility for family life. This may include caring for children and other family members, carrying out domestic duties, managing household tasks and finances, in addition to managing their partner’s health (taking them to appointments, helping with rehabilitation, medications, and domestic support, etc).
There can be little time left for anything else, including looking after themselves or working towards their own aspirations. Partners are therefore at risk of experiencing carers distress or carers burnout, which may result in them experiencing emotions like sadness, loneliness, anger, resentment, and guilt over prolonged periods of time. Furthermore, carers or partners often experience social isolation and identity loss.
If this occurs then their own wellbeing may decline and functioning may become impaired, resulting in reduced capacity to care for themselves properly in addition to their partner and other family members.
The importance of self-care
Self-care is one way for partners to prevent carers distress or burnout and ensure their mental health remains stable for the longer-term.
Self-care in this situation can be defined as taking time out from caring duties looking after others to spend time doing enjoyable things and may include exercising, mindfulness, eating well, getting quality sleep, attending important medical appointments catching up with family and friends, and more.
It can be natural for the partner to feel self-indulgent or selfish when practising self-care, when instead it should be viewed as a necessity, like cleaning your teeth. Regular self-care is crucial for partners to maintain their own wellbeing for their own quality of life, in addition to ensure the ongoing care for their dependants (the veteran or children).
Exercise and self-care
Exercise can be used to improve physical fitness as well as psychological wellbeing.
Hormones released as a result of exercise such as endorphins and serotonin aid in the maintenance of mental health and wellbeing by reducing pain sensitivity, improving self-esteem and confidence.
Simple and gentle activities such as taking walks, swimming, restorative stretching, and yoga can be extremely beneficial to physical and mental health.
Simple ways to add more exercise to your day include incidental exercises that break up periods of sedentary activity such as parking further away from your destination, walking upstairs rather than taking a life or walking or cycling while watching TV. Forming this kind of sustainable habits will make it easier to reach your goals, maintain motivation; and increase your enjoyment of your exercise plans.
Tips to help partners and carers manage their own mental health and wellbeing:
- Seek professional help. Reaching out for extra support through counselling and psychological services is a valuable way to manage your mental wellbeing. Carers support groups (online or face-to-face) are also valuable for information sharing, gaining understanding and support from others in similar situations about the challenges, and reducing isolation.
- Manage your stress. Self-care is vital but it’s also important to learn stress management techniques that work for you i.e., a breathing technique, meditation, mindfulness, writing in a journal or calling a friend.
- Build a support network and accept help. You do not need to be responsible for everything. Ask for help and delegate some tasks. Lean on extended family and friends to help with domestic jobs, getting your partner to appointments, financial advice, etc. Sometimes it takes a village.
- Educate yourself in what your partner is going through. Understanding what your partner is experiencing can build compassion and will help in finding solutions to the problems and challenges that may result from their time in the ADF.
Seek support at Mates4Mates
Mates4Mates provides a wide range of support services for partners of veterans including the Partners and Carers Program which provides participants with strategies to support their own mental health and wellbeing, tips on how to manage the impacts of transitioning from the Defence Force, and more. This program is currently running online and will be offered in 2023.
Other Mates4Mates support services for partners include a range of Skills for Recovery Programs, appointments with a psychologist, exercise physiologist, counsellor or social worker, and regular social connection activities such as BBQs, craft workshops, yoga classes, and much more.
As a partner of a veteran who has been impacted by service, you can apply to join Mates4Mates at any time. The veteran does not have to be registered with Mates4Mates for you to apply to join. Please call 1300 4 MATES (62 837) to find out more about how we can better support you.
Written by Trinity Pennisi, Counsellor; and Luke Morrison, Exercise Physiologist
Mental Health Council of Australia (2009), Adversity to Advocacy: The Lives and Hopes of Carers
Carers Australia (2021), The 2021 Carer Wellbeing Survey