How Mates Help Military Veterans Through Mental Health Trouble

"One of the things my dad always felt was alone. That's why this is important"

Tara Pitt wished she had found help for her father before he committed suicide.

"He saw some traumatic things, a lot of death, and came back a very different person," she said.

She remembered suicide attempts after he returned from military service in Somalia in 1993. He saw psychiatrists and sought help from support groups after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but there were days he couldn't get out of bed. In 2016, he ended his life. Pitt said there were points where he had been "too proud" to seek help earlier.

"One of the things my dad always felt was alone. That's why this is important, to be concentrating on that mateship," she told ten daily.

Pitt is an ambassador for the Australia's Greatest Mate program, an initiative of defence force support service Mates4Mates. The organisation offers assistance in physical rehabilitation, employment and education, as well as psychological help and social opportunities.

The Greatest Mate campaign aims to bring awareness to the power that simply having a mate -- someone to have a conversation with, someone to open up to -- can have not only for military veterans battling health issues, but for all people around the country.

"I wish dad had found Mates4Mates before. If only I found it a few months before, maybe things could be different. I wish I found it out before, rather than letting dad find his own help," Pitt said.

Pitt and fellow Mates4Mates ambassador El Rowland were both contestants on Australian Survivor. Rowland was a corporal in the Australian Army, and like many veterans, she struggled after leaving the military.

Pitt and Rowland have signed up as Mates4Mates ambassadors around the Australia's Greatest Mate initiative

"The thing I found the hardest was having a lack of people support around me, mates. I’ve found that very difficult, not having the support there for me all the time. It’s a bit lonely," she told ten daily.

"When you leave the military, when you lose the routine and the structure, it makes you lose your identity. In the army you're looked after, your health, dental, where you live, your food, so not having that routine and having the motivation to get up and keep pursuing what you have to do is hard."

Rowland also battled post-natal depression after the birth of her son in 2012, which she believed was exacerbated by PTSD from her time in the military.

"After I had my baby boy, it was like a trigger. I got PTSD as a symptom of post-natal depression, and went through a horrific battle with PTSD, depression, panic attacks. It was a very dark time of my life. I was lucky to come out the other side of it, but I lost my hope. It scared me so much," she said.

"I got out of the army to help people going through the same thing."

Both Rowland and Pitt have linked with Mates4Mates since their respective experiences with mental health, and said the simple act of having a conversation with someone who understands can make a world of difference.

"You've got to reach out. Encourage these regular coffee dates, maybe every week at a certain time," Pitt said.

Rowland said people needed to open up and be ready to accept assistance.

"If you don't reach out, you won't get better. People try to self-medicate, use drugs and alcohol, but putting your hand up is one of the very first things you need to do to get better," she said.

"Without that support, you won't go anywhere and get stuck in this cycle. The whole thing is the stigma about mental health. Nobody can escape it so there's nothing to be embarrassed about. Putting your hand up is the ultimate step in getting better."

Australia's Greatest Mate runs until July 30. Click here for more information or to nominate a mate.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.