Veteran sport a social connector to build mental wellness
The Australian veteran community is an important and significant piece of the nation’s identity, deeply rooted in the rich tapestry of our history, values, and culture. For some veterans, the process of returning to civilian society following service may encompass difficulties, such as reestablishing a sense of purpose, finding suitable employment, acclimating to different routines and expectations, and rebuilding social connections, particularly those who are wounded, injured or ill, or involuntarily discharged.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare identified in 2021, for example, that younger veterans and especially those who are medically discharged – approximately 18 percent of those transitioning or around 1,000 individuals each year – are most at risk of death by suicide. The contrast between the structured and highly disciplined military life and the comparatively unstructured civilian life can be disorienting for some veterans. This is a statistic that Invictus Australia is dedicated to changing, with sporting programs in place to address some of the underlying issues.
Team Veteran enjoying Yoga in Toowoomba QLD, managed by Invictus Australia
building a sense of belonging
Sport can provide a great way for veterans to get involved in something that is bigger than themselves. Participating in regular physical activity—whether it’s going to the gym, joining a local running club such as parkrun, volunteering at your local surf life saving club or competing in team sports and events —can help veterans feel connected to others who share similar interests, and recreate the feeling of camaraderie that may be missing following discharge. This sense of belonging can be incredibly beneficial for mental health as it helps reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. It also gives veterans an opportunity to build meaningful relationships with people outside the military community, which can help them reintegrate back into civilian life.
Contributing to team success can bond individuals quickly, with sports such as Dragon Boating playing a powerful role in improving physical and mental health. Invictus Australia is proud to partner with the Australian Dragon Boat Federation to provide opportunities for veterans and their families to engage with the many Dragon Boat communities across Australia. Find out more here.
providing social connection
In addition to building a sense of belonging, sport can provide meaningful social connection with others. For many veterans, sport is an opportunity to bond with former service members while still maintaining their own identity as civilians. Being part of a team or a club, whether as a participant of a volunteer, also gives veterans and their families an opportunity to learn from each other and provides a platform for mutual support during difficult times. Furthermore, participating in sport together gives veterans something positive to focus on rather than dwelling on past experiences or negative events that may have occurred while serving in the military.
Invictus Australia has had great success with their Community Sport Days which they run regularly in local regions around Australia. These days bring together sporting and support organisations to facilitate pathways for veterans and their families to thrive in their communities, through the social connector of sport. Watch a recent Family Day event in Canberra here.
For local events near you, check out our events page.
Sports can be used as an effective tool for managing stress levels in veterans, as well as their families, who are often impacted by the challenges of service, deployment, injury and discharge. Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce stress hormones such as cortisol, which is essential for maintaining good mental health. Exercise also releases endorphins—chemicals that interact with receptors in the brain which promote positive feelings and reduce anxiety and depression levels, whilst also boosting self-esteem which often dips after leaving military service. All these elements combine to create better overall mental wellbeing among those who participate regularly in physical activity or sports teams specifically tailored towards serving personnel or ex-service members.
Beyond sport, activities like yoga are empowering veterans and their families to find solace, space and support in their everyday lives. Invictus Australia has received overwhelming support for their yoga program in Toowoomba which has become a staple for members of the local Defence community seeking balance, relaxation and rejuvenation following their service.
In essence, the integration of sports can empower veterans with the support, camaraderie, and purpose needed to thrive in civilian life. Invictus Australia believes in the transformative influence of sports to better support the individuals who have sacrificed so much for the safety and security of our nation. In doing so, we strive to ensure that veterans can continue to make meaningful contributions to society, beyond their military service, reaffirming the enduring importance of their role in the Australian identity.
To learn more about the sporting opportunities in your area, who your local Veteran Engagement Manager is for your region and how to get in touch, visit here.
About Invictus Australia: Invictus Australia encourages veterans and their families to connect and engage with their communities through sport. Whether participating or volunteering at grassroots level, to competing internationally at an Invictus or Warrior Games, Invictus Australia leverages the power of sport to proactively foster good health and aid in recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration. Invictus Australia promotes the physical, social and emotional benefits of sport for all, and shine a light on the unique needs of younger veterans, particularly the challenges associated with transitioning from military to civilian life.