Army vet reveals the one phone call that saved her life

When you're fighting off a cold or flu, the path to wellness is simple enough. Stay hydrated, take vitamins, and get plenty of bed rest. A few days later and you're fighting fit again.

But when you're struggling with your mental health, the road to recovery is not so simple and often it can be harder to catch the warning signs to stop it in its tracks.

It's a battle that RAAF member Bethanie O'Brien knows all too well.

"You never really know what's going on inside someone's head," she said.

"You never really know what someone could be going through.

"I know myself, I put on a pretty brave face at work, but if someone actually took their time to ask and did check-up, it could be a different story."

In the lead up to Anzac Day, Bethanie is joining the #CheckYourMates campaign urging the veteran community to check in with their fellow service men and women and make sure they're doing OK during what is often a sensitive time for veterans experiencing mental health issues.


RAAF member Bethanie O’Brien.
RAAF member Bethanie O’Brien.


She says prevention through connection is the best way to combat the rising number of suicides among her peers. But she admits, making that contact can be daunting for most.

"I know even for myself, people are scared about what's going to come out if they ask someone how they're doing," she said.

"What if I go and ask someone if they're OK and they're not OK? What am I going to do?"

Apart from gently encouraging and supporting them to reach out for help from a professional, Bethanie says there are some simple things you can do to help.

"Stay with them and keep that contact regularly," she said.

"Don't make them feel like they are a burden or they're not worth listening to. It's really just being there to listen to that person and making sure they know they're heard and cared about.

"Just check in with them regularly to make sure that they're OK and if you can, spend some time with them, even if it's just a cup of coffee for a couple of hours just to touch base."

For Bethanie, a simple Facebook message from an unlikely source literally saved her life when she reached her lowest point a few years ago. After losing her brother to suicide a few years prior, her own battle with mental health almost got the better of her.



"I'd had breakfast with my sister-in-law that morning and I was putting on a brave face for her because I didn't want her to pick up on anything," she said.

"But in my head, I was pretty much saying my final goodbyes but not letting her know.

"I got home and spent a couple of hours crying in bed, deciding what I was going to do. But thankfully I came to the conclusion (ending my life) wasn't an option for me, so I reached out on Facebook.

"I just put up a status asking 'Is anyone free at the moment?' and I had a few messages and one of them was from one of my sergeants at work who I don't really talk with much at work; but he reached out to me and I can honestly say that saved my life.

"We spoke for a couple of hours. I just wanted something to take my mind off where my head was. I couldn't handle leaving the house or going out in public but it was just having that phone contact with him and with a couple of other people that really got my head off topic and really helped me through.



"What you don't think about when you're in that state is how much of an impact it has on everyone in your life.

"You're not thinking about the people that you're going to hurt at the time, but it is important to try to remember that taking your own life doesn't only affect you, it affects everyone. Sometimes people that you don't even know will be affected."

Having experienced the highs and lows herself, Bethanie says she understands how difficult it can be to reach out for help when you're at your lowest, especially with the stigma attached to mental illness and suicide.

"A lot of people still don't fully understand the illness or why people do it or what causes it," she said.

"We're talking about it more now but it's still not enough. People need to feel like they can open up and talk to whoever they need to get help.



"Some people still feel like they can't speak up because they'll be seen differently. But it's important to know that that's not true and you need to get help because it will save your life.

"I know how hard it is to reach out - I've been there. Several times I've decided this is it, it's the end, I'm gone. But that split second where I changed my mind and said, 'No, I can live another day, fight another day' and I reached out and spoke to people saved me.

"Trust me, I felt like an idiot posting that Facebook status. I thought people would be thinking, 'Oh, she's such an attention seeker' and I'm going to look stupid, people are going to laugh at me, but who cares.

"Honestly, if it means it's going to save your life it doesn't matter what other people think. You living is more important than other people's opinion. Reach out no matter what."

Although some time has passed since the lowest point, Bethanie says she still has to work hard every day to keep her mental health in check.

She says it's important to look after yourself and do things that make you happy whenever you start to feel like you're not feeling your best.

"For me personally, I'm very much a family person so I do talk to my parents, my brothers, my sister-in-law," she said.

"But if I feel like I don't want to be with them, I go and sit somewhere at the beach and read a book.

"Something as simple as getting out and getting some fresh air can really change your state of mind."

Originally published as Army vet reveals the one phone call that saved her life

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