Debunk the myths

Urban legends about veteran health - especially mental health - can derail your recovery. These myths deserve to be busted!

Time to read: 9 minutes


If you are concerned about the mental health or wellbeing of a veteran or their family, contact Open Arms - Veterans and Families Counselling on 1800 011 046.

If you require immediate emergency support, call 000.

Myth - There is no connection between physical and mental health

Fact Physical and mental health are closely related, and each can have an effect on the other.

Having a mental health problem can mean you stop taking proper care of yourself. You might not eat enough/or eat too much, not get enough sleep or sleep all the time, stop exercising, or drink too much.

All of these things will have an effect on your physical health.

Sometimes a mental health problem can develop in response to a physical condition. For example, if you’re used to an active lifestyle and you get injured, you might get depressed about lack of exercise and losing your independence.

If you are concerned about your physical or mental health, talk to your GP. Your GP can help you develop an action plan that takes account of your physical and mental health needs, as well as any injuries you may have.



For information about getting active, visit the AT-Ease Exercise page.

If you’re having trouble getting motivated, the Physical Activities tool on the High Res app to use on the go. It has a range of physical activities you can try, and tips for getting started and staying active.

Myth - Posttraumatic stress is the most common mental health problem among veterans

Fact While posttraumatic stress receives a lot of attention, alcohol and drug-related problems, along with depression and anxiety, affect more veterans. In fact, alcohol problems are more than twice as common as posttraumatic stress among Vietnam veterans.

Many veterans also experience more than one mental health problem at any given time. Two-thirds of serving members with a mood disorder also suffer from anxiety or alcohol-use disorder.

All of these disorders, and other problems like anger or sleep disturbance, can have a significant effect on serving members, veterans and their families.


Posttraumatic stress and other issues

Learn more about social anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress and other mental health disorders page at AT-Ease.

Myth - Everyone in the military will end up with a mental health problem

Fact The overall rate of mental health disorders in the military is about the same as the civilian population . However, the rate is higher among ex-serving personnel.

Even the most common mental health problems affect only a minority of serving members and veterans.

For example, less than one-in-five Vietnam veterans will experience any mental health disorder over their lifetime. The exception is problems with alcohol, which affect about two-in-five Vietnam veterans.

At any given time, only 8 per cent of serving members, 5 per cent of Gulf War veterans, and 11 per cent of Vietnam veterans will be affected by posttraumatic stress.

Myth - Serving members and veterans only develop mental health problems because of their military experience

Fact Mental health problems of some veterans are directly influenced by military experience. However, veterans all share the same general risks of developing a mental health problem as others in the community. For example, as well as traumatic events experienced on deployment, a majority of veterans will also experience non-military traumatic events.

The rate of mental health problems is similar among ADF personnel who have been on deployment and those who had never been deployed. This suggests that non-deployment risk factors are also an important influence on the mental health of serving military personnel.

Myth - People with mental health problems are violent and dangerous

Fact People with a mental health problem are rarely dangerous. They are much more likely to harm themselves than someone else. Some mental health problems actually make it less likely that a person will be dangerous to others. For example, someone with depression is unlikely to have the energy or motivation for violence.

Even among people with severe mental health disorders like schizophrenia, violence is rare. It usually only occurs if the person is not receiving treatment, or is abusing alcohol or other drugs.

Myth - People with mental health problems are 'crazy'

Fact Having a mental health problem doesn’t mean that someone is 'crazy'. It means they have a health condition that requires treatment.

Labelling people with mental health problems as 'crazy' or 'psycho' promotes an unhelpful and misleading stereotype and stigma. Such words belittle and offend people with mental health problems. Those affected need help and support, not negative labels and discrimination.

Myth - Mental health problems are caused by personal weakness

Fact Mental health problems are not character flaws. They have nothing to do with being weak or lacking willpower. Although people with mental health problems can play a big part in their own recovery, they did not choose to become unwell, they are not lazy and they can't just 'snap out of it'.

Myth - People with mental health problems are just making it up, and really they’re just unreliable

Fact One of the defining features of any mental health disorder is that it interferes with the person’s home, work or social life. This means many people with mental health problems have trouble coping with day-to-day living.

Just as the symptoms of a physical health problem may affect someone’s ability to do things, so may the symptoms of a mental health problem.

Anyone with a health condition, whether it’s physical or mental, will have good days and bad days.

A veteran with chronic back pain, for example, will have some days where they feel OK and are able to get to the shops or catch up with friends. But on other days they may struggle to get out of bed.

Rather than getting fed up when the person cancels plans or doesn’t show up when they’re supposed to, try to remember how much more fed up they probably are with not being able to live life the way they want to.

Myth - People with mental health problems never get better

Fact Effective treatments are available for mental health problems, including both psychological therapy and medication. With the right kind of help, most serving members and veterans do recover and lead healthy, productive and satisfying lives. Some won’t experience any further episodes of a mental health problem, while others will have recurring symptoms and will learn to manage their condition, just as someone with a chronic physical health condition would.

Myth - ‘Real men’ don’t talk about their problems or ask for help – counselling is for wimps

Fact Men and women of all ages and all walks of life seek help from a variety of mental health professionals, including counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Finding and accepting help are signs of coping and of preventing situations from getting worse.

On deployment, you wouldn’t try to take care of everything yourself. It’s all about teamwork.

Looking after your mental health works in the same way.

You can’t always do it yourself, and getting it out in the open means you can get the right people for the job to lend a hand.

Myth - Alcohol works better than medication

Fact Drinking alcohol might help you avoid symptoms of anxiety or depression in the short term, but in the long term, it will likely cause more harm.

Problematic alcohol use is one of the biggest mental health issues for veterans. It’s important to be careful with your alcohol intake, but especially if you’re suffering other mental health problems as well.

Alcohol can make problems with mood and sleep worse, and can cause serious problems with work, relationships and physical health.

Remember that alcohol and medications don’t mix. Alcohol can interact in potentially dangerous ways with some of the medications prescribed for mental health problems.


Take control of your drinking

Understanding how drinking impacts your life can help you to decide whether you need to change your drinking habits.

You can also use the 'Track' tool in the ON TRACK with The Right Mix app to track your drinking over time and then find out your Wellbeing Score Chart.

Myth - People are born with mental health problems

Fact A family history of mental health problems is a risk factor for an individual to also develop a mental health problem. But there are plenty of people who develop a mental health problem even when there’s no history of mental health problems in the family.

The reverse is also true: many people who have a family history of mental health problems won’t develop a mental health problem. There are all sorts of factors that can increase the likelihood of developing a mental health problem. These include:

  • bereavement,
  • a traumatic life event (like deployment, a car accident, or a natural disaster),
  • life stress (such as a relationship breakdown or unemployment),
  • abuse,
  • isolation, and
  • major physical illness or disability.

Myth - People who have a mental health condition need to be kept away from society

Fact Most people with a mental health condition continue to live at home in their local community. They recover well with the support of family and friends, maybe even a counsellor.

Only a minority of people who suffer from a mental health condition will be admitted to hospital for treatment. Usually, they’re only admitted for a brief period to treat acute symptoms and manage risks to themselves or others.

Myth - People with mental health problems have an intellectual disability or brain damage

Fact Mental health conditions and intellectual disability are not the same thing.

An intellectual disability is usually present early in a person’s life and is characterised by below average intelligence.

People with an intellectual disability can experience the same kinds of mental health problems as people without an intellectual disability.

Brain damage is an injury that causes destruction or deterioration of the tissue of the brain. People with brain damage are at increased risk of developing a mental health problem. For example, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who experienced an IED blast are at risk of both mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and posttraumatic stress.

If you are concerned about the mental health or wellbeing of a veteran or their family, please contact Open Arms - Veterans and Families Counselling on 1800 011 046 for free and confidential support 24/7.

If you require immediate emergency support, call 000.

Where to go for more information or help