20 October 2021
Photography: RSL Victoria

RSL Victoria prides itself on delivering mental health and wellbeing services, but what does wellbeing encompass and how does the RSL play its part in helping veterans achieve it?

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), "positive wellbeing is associated with being comfortable, happy or healthy." The Department of Veterans' Affairs echoes this: "our approach to improving the mental health and wellbeing of veterans and their families recognises that good mental health is supported by whole of life being."

Carolyn Deans is RSL Victoria's Mental Health Advisor and brings a wealth of experience to the position. Carolyn is a Clinical Psychologist and has served for about 25 years both full and part-time in the Australian Army Psychology Corps. She is now an Active Reservist.

Carolyn Deans is RSL Victoria's Mental Health Advisor

Of wellbeing Carolyn says "Essentially, wellbeing can be defined as experiencing positive emotional states, feeling connected to and valued by others, and having a sense of meaning and purpose in life."

"Wellbeing is not just the absence of ill health, but it is the ability of people to realise their potential and live their best life."

Carolyn Deans

It's important to recognise that because there are multiple factors that contribute to wellbeing, RSL Victoria works with government, health and service providers, employers and other ex-service organisations, with the aim of providing the best possible overall outcomes for veterans.

"We use the AIHW model of determinants of health and wellbeing. So, what we are really interested in is what are the things that actually enable people to live that best life," says Carolyn.

The model she talks about suggests that there are seven factors of wellbeing: justice and safety, housing, education and skills, employment, income and finance, health and social support. For veterans and their families RSL Victoria also considers recognition and respect to be important elements of wellbeing.

As Carolyn explains, to experience wellbeing all of these factors need to come together in one way or another

"So, for a person to feel like they are in a state of wellbeing, and to be experiencing wellbeing outcomes that you can measure, all different elements need to come together,"

Carolyn Deans

Wellbeing is a critical area for RSL Victoria and one which the organisation is constantly reviewing.

wellbeing wheel
RSL Victoria's wellbeing wheel

Carolyn says RSL Victoria has several strengths in its wellbeing space. "RSL VIC is part of the oldest peer support network for veterans in Australia. We've been doing peer support for 100 or so years now, it's what we were founded to do and there's a lot of evidence at the moment that social support is an enabler to wellbeing. It's very important."

"To be set up in a way that enables the continues delivery of peer support is something that the RSL is quite unique in, and something that we need to work to continue to evolve upon because we want our social support network to be inclusive, to understand wellbeing and how to encourage people to engage in help-seeking."

The provision of much of RSL Victoria and its aligned Sub-Branches' peer support programs, like RSL Active, Day Clubs and home and hospital visitation, is thanks to an effective volunteer network, which is integral in fulfilling the RSL's mission and ethos.

She says 'care navigation' is another area RSL Victoria does well in. "People come to the RSL, to our advocates, to our veteran central people because sometimes negotiating DVA and all of the other services is confusing."

Care navigation is a function of the RSL Victoria Veteran support services that has been formalised through the creation of Veteran central.

Carolyn says there is ongoing work to fill the gaps where RSL Victoria may be able to expand its services, better its existing services and collaborate with other organisations, including in the areas of homelessness and housing, for example.

Given that wellbeing is largely subjective, it's tricky to measure. Nevertheless, RSL Victoria aims to enable veterans to work towards their own goals.

"Am I comfortable, am I healthy, am I happy? You need to allow people to define their own sense of wellbeing… you're not going to tell them where they should be in their life."

Carolyn Deans

Part of Carolyn's ongoing work behind the scenes is also ensuring the wellbeing of the staff and volunteers who work in veteran services, which can sometimes be a challenging job. "How do we equip them with the correct skills and abilities to help veterans, but also mentally how do we take care of our staff, are they enjoying their work and have the resilience processes in place themselves to manage working with veterans who can sometimes be in significant distress."

Carolyn says while there are guidelines to help define wellbeing, at the end of the day, it's a personal journey. "In my mind, that's another thing the RSL has done really well for years and years and that is that we are focused on each individual veteran as a person."

RSL Victoria provides a number of services to ensure that the ex-service community are receiving the right health and wellbeing support.

Stop and take a selfie this VHW

This Veterans' Health Week, we encourage you to grab your phone and take a snap while you 'get moving' and post on your chosen social media platform. Use the hashtag #VeteransHealthWeek and don't forget to tag @rslvic in your post.

Together, let's amplify Veterans’ Health Week and support each other to get moving,

VHW will run from October 16- 24, 2021.

Take a selfie this VHW