Frequency of social contact
22% of all veterans
had infrequent social contact with others. This was similar to those who had never served in the ADF (20%)
Over 1 in 4 younger veterans
(aged 18 to 44; 27%) had infrequent social contact with others. This was higher than those who had never served in the ADF (18%).
Veterans in poor mental health
were nearly twice as likely to have infrequent social contact (#47%) as persons who had never served in the ADF (26%).
How did we measure the frequency of social contact veterans had with other people?
As part of the HILDA self-questionnaire, respondents were asked “In general, about how often do you get together socially with friends or relatives not living with you?”. This information is recorded on an ordinal scale from 1 (everyday) to 7 (less often than once every 3 months). Based on responses to this survey question, respondents were disaggregated into three subgroups for analysis:
- Infrequent social contact with others is indicated by scores of 6 or 7 (that is, once or twice every 3 months, or less often than once every 3 months).
- Moderate social contact with others is indicated by scores of 4 or 5 (that is, 2 or 3 times a month, or about once a month).
- Frequent social contact with others is indicated by scores of 1, 2 or 3 (that is, every day, several times a week or about once a week).
On this page, only the proportions of people who had infrequent social contact with others (that is, responses with scores of 6 or 7 for this survey question) are reported.
Comparing to people who have never served in the ADF
Overall, analysis of self-reported data from Wave 21 of HILDA indicated that people who had ever served in the ADF (herein referred to as ‘veterans’) had infrequent social contact with others at a similar rate to people who had never served in the ADF (22% compared with 20%, respectively).
However, some subgroups of veterans were at greater risk of infrequent social contact than people who had never served in the ADF from the same subgroups. This includes veterans who were:
- aged 18 to 44 (27%, compared with 18% of people who had never served in the ADF)
- in poor mental health (#47%, compared with 26% people who had never served in the ADF)
- in high to very high psychological distress (#45%, compared with 26% of people who had never served in the ADF).
Comparing between subgroups of veterans
Some subgroups of veterans were also at higher risk of having infrequent social contact than others. This included veterans who were:
- in poor mental health (#47%, compared with 17% of veterans in good mental health)28
- in high or very high psychological distress (#45%, compared with 17% of veterans in low to moderate psychological distress)29
- in poor general health (#32%, compared with 19% of veterans in good general health)30
- aged 18 to 4431 and aged 45 to 6432 (27% and 26% respectively, compared with 17% of veterans aged 65 years and older) (Figure 12).
Figure 12: Rates of infrequent social contact (that is, once or twice every three months or less), by individual characteristics and ADF service status, 2021–22
The bar chart shows that veterans aged 18 to 44, in poor mental health or in high to very high psychological distress were more likely to have infrequent social contact than the same subrgoups in the broader Australian population.
Why did we measure how frequently veterans were in social contact with others?
The frequency of social contact a person has with their family and friends is an objective indicator of social isolation (Holt-Lunstad et al 2015). Prolonged lack of social contact can lead to loneliness, as well as an increased risk of developing physical, mental, and cognitive health issues (Holt-Lunstand 2021). However, it is possible for an individual to have a small social network and experience no loneliness, or have a large social network and still feel lonely (Relationships Australia 2018).
Frequency of social contact was significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and this likely influences the findings discussed in the report due to the overlap of the pandemic with Wave 21 data collection. According to findings from the 2020 General Social Survey (GSS), over 2 in 5 (42%) Australians had face-to-face contact with family or friends living outside their household at least once a week during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020), compared with 3 in 5 (68%) in 2019 (ABS 2021). This likely reflects the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions and initiatives such as social distancing rules and limits on gatherings that occurred from March 2020 (ABS 2021).
International research suggests that frequent social contact with others may help reduce suicidal ideation and symptoms of depression and PTSD among veterans (Mavandadi et al 2019, Teo et al 2019), and among female veterans, may improve their ability to cope with deployment-related stressors (Mattocks et al 2012).
# proportion has a high Margin of Error and should be used with caution.
28. A similar result was found among people who had never served in the ADF, however the size of the difference was smaller (26% of those in poor mental health compared with 18% of those in good mental health).
29. A similar result was found among people who had never served in the ADF, however the size of the difference was smaller (26% of those in high or very high psychological distress compared with 18% of those in low or moderate psychological distress).
30. A similar result was found among people who had never served in the ADF (28% of those in poor general health compared with 19% of those in good general health).
31. This pattern was not seen among people who had never served in the ADF.
32. A similar result was found among people who had never served in the ADF (24% of those aged 45 to 64 compared with 18% of those aged 65 years and older).
ABS (2021) General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, ABS, Australian Government, accessed 11 May 2023.
Holt-Lunstad J (2021) ‘Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors: The Power of Social Connection in Prevention’, American journal of lifestyle medicine, 15(5), 567–573, doi: 10.1177/15598276211009454.
Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Baker M, Harris T and Stephenson D (2015) ’Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: A meta-analytic review’, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10, 227-237, doi: 10.1177/1745691614568352
Mattocks KM, Haskell SG, Krebs EE, Justice AC, Yano EM and Brandt C (2012) ‘Women at war: Understanding how women veterans cope with combat and military sexual trauma’, Social science & medicine, 74(4), 537-545, doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.10.039
Mavandadi S, Ingram E, Klaus J and Oslin D (2019) ‘Social Ties and Suicidal Ideation Among Veterans Referred to a Primary Care–Mental Health Integration Program’, Psychiatric Services 70.9 (2019): 824-832, doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201800451.
Relationships Australia (2018) Is Australia experiencing an epidemic of loneliness? Findings from 16 waves of the Household Income and Labour Dynamics of Australia Survey, Relationships Australia, accessed 18 July 2023.
Teo AR, Chan BK, Saha S and Nicolaidis C (2019) ‘Frequency of social contact in-person vs. on Facebook: an examination of associations with psychiatric symptoms in military veterans’, Journal of affective disorders, 243, 375-380, doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.09.043.