A good place to start is to ask your doctor for a referral. If you are a veteran or the partner of a veteran, you can also call VANZ 24 hours a day on 08004VETERANS to find a local mental health provider with experience working with veterans. If you are an NZDF member your closest Garrison Health Service can assist you with referral to a mental health provider.
Do I need professional support?
Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Talking to a professional about mental health and wellbeing concerns will help you to help yourself. Whether or not you need professional support can only be decided by you and a trained mental health provider.
To help you decide if you may need professional support, ask yourself these questions:
- Have you felt sad or depressed most of the time for longer than two weeks?
- Have you been feeling anxious or had distressing thoughts almost all the time?
- Have you had trouble working or meeting your daily responsibilities?
- Have you had problems in your relationships, or trouble taking care of your family?
- Have you increased your use of alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription medications, or have you been using them to cope with your problems lately?
- Are you very angry most of the time?
- Do other people say they worry about you and think you should go talk to someone?
- Are you having trouble sleeping most of the time?
- Are you having trouble eating, or have you gained or lost a lot of weight without trying?
- Are you thinking about committing suicide, hurting, or killing someone else?
If you said yes to this last one, please call 111 or go immediately to the nearest hospital emergency department.
If you said yes to any of the others, you would probably benefit from talking with a mental health provider. Contact your GP or a mental health professional. If you are a current member of the NZDF (uniformed or civilian), family member or veteran you can call the NZDF4U phone line 0800 693348 for confidential advice. If you are a veteran you can also call the VANZ help line 08004VETERANS. If you are a civilian member of the NZDF you can call Vitae 0508 664981 24 hours a day. You don’t have to wait for an emergency to speak to someone. Family members can access community support services accessible through chaplains and defence community support officers.
Why do people usually seek professional help?
Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Talking to a professional about mental health and wellbeing concerns will help you to help yourself.
Getting this sort of support will help you to feel better within yourself, and just as importantly help you feel more relaxed about connecting with people in your daily life, pursuing your goals, and focusing on your future. Your GP is generally the best place to start. Current NZDF personnel can self-refer to their local Psychology Section or a Medical Officer.
Will it really work?
Scientific evidence shows that many types of therapy and medications really are effective. Within the health care system, many mental health providers are trained in providing these evidence based treatments. It may be hard to imagine now, but you can work through mental health problems or any other hurdles in the transition back home or into civilian life.
Worried that counsellors won’t be able to help you or won’t understand what you’ve been through? You may be surprised to find out that they can help, and will work hard to understand you and your experiences. Counsellors are highly trained mental health providers. Some specialise in working with military personnel and veterans.
If you have a few sessions with a counsellor and you don't think it's going well, you can talk to the counsellor or your doctor about what you want changed or you can ask for a different counsellor. Counsellors are focused on your recovery and will help you get the care you need.
What about practical things like making appointments, costs and transport?
When thinking about professional counselling, many people worry about practical things that might keep them from getting help. Concerns about how to find a counsellor, the cost of treatment, getting time off from work, and transport to appointments are very common. Each is addressed briefly below.
Finding a counsellor
You may be able to access mental health care at no cost. For serving Defence members, free access to treatment and support is available via Garrison Health Services and VITAE (members of the civil staff) and referral to VANZ. Alternatively, opportunities to access subsidised counselling under the Public Health care system can be discussed with your GP.
Time off from work
If you need flexible appointments so you do not miss work, look for a counsellor that will work with your schedule. You need to find a good time where you won't feel rushed. Most employers will understand and help you take care of your health, whether it’s physical or emotional. Often, people work out a flexible schedule with their boss to free up time for their appointment.
Some people have problems getting to and from appointments. Ex-serving members may be eligible to access transport assistance through VANZ. If this is not available to you, public transport may be an option or getting a lift with someone. Maybe you could arrange to borrow a vehicle. Consider all your options. You might be surprised at how many people will take the time to help you get to an appointment.
What does it say about me if I ask for help?
Remember: no one is alone in this world. People are here to help. Perhaps you believe that you should be able to handle your problems without help from others. But, people who use the sources of help around them are able to cope better than those who choose not to. Trying to cope on your own often makes things harder than needed. It can also add loneliness and isolation to your problems.
You may think that needing help means that you're not normal. You may also believe that seeking help means that you are not fit to do normal things. Remember, it is not unusual to have problems. Many people report some type of concern about their mental health after stressful experiences.
Don’t feel guilty about taking time to get yourself well. You will be better able to live a fulfilling life if you are feeling better.
Talking about your experiences helps you feel more in control. Getting the support you need to live your life more fully shows strength, self-respect and courage.
What if I'm embarrassed about seeking help?
You don’t have to tell people that you’re working with a counsellor. You can just say you have an appointment and that it’s personal.
Try not to be upset with friends or family who worry about you. Take it as a sign that they care and want the best for you and are probably looking for ways to help.
You may think that people will make fun of you for getting help, because at one point you may have overheard someone making fun of someone in your situation. But you’ll soon find out that this usually isn’t true. Many men and women who served in the military have reported some concern about their mental health.
Expecting embarrassment and shame for asking for help is one of the main reasons why people don't seek help. You might ask yourself the following question: Is it more important for me to worry about what someone else thinks of me? Or, is it important to get the help I need to move on with my life?
Who can help me?
As you think about getting care, know that there are many experts to help you. In this section, you can read about the roles and duties of GPs, psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health social workers.
What does a general practitioner do?
A general practitioner is also called a GP. A GP is a medical doctor with a degree to diagnose and treat common medical and psychological problems. A GP may prescribe medicine to help with psychological problems. GPs are a good first contact to help you find the services you need. They can refer you to an expert like a psychologist, psychiatrist or mental health social worker, who can help you better address your problems. You can find a GP in the Defence and Veterans’ Affairs health care systems, through recommendations from people you know, or via a referral from another health provider. If you need medical attention, a prescription, or a referral to a specialist, then your GP is the best place to start.
What does a psychiatrist do?
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who treat a variety of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance use problems, and severe mental illnesses. Psychiatrists primarily treat patients with medications that can help with symptoms of mental illness and other related problems (like sleep). Some psychiatrists also provide counselling. Psychiatrists work in the community and within the Defence and Veterans’ Affairs health care systems. You can find a psychiatrist through advice from people you know, or via a mental health provider, but it is important to get a referral from your GP.
What does a psychologist do?
Clinical Psychologists work with clients who have serious mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance use problems. Psychologists work with singles, couples, families and groups. They have the ability to assess, diagnose and treat complex problems relating to mental health. Psychologists are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medicine. Their role is to provide assessment and counselling.
There are psychologists in the community and working throughout Defence and Veterans’ Affairs health care systems. You can find a psychologist through advice from people you know, referrals from a GP, or from another mental health provider. The New Zealand Psychological Society also provides a ‘find a psychologist’ service. You can find a link to this service in the find professional care section of this website. Eligible serving members and ex-serving members may also be able to find a psychologist through VANZ.
What does a mental health social worker do?
Mental health social workers assist people who are struggling with mental health conditions, and family and relationship difficulties. Mental health social workers are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medications.