This week is mental health awareness week! Mental health is an important issue in the Army, one which effects many people.
Mental Health problems are common in society, especially depression, anxiety and those associated with the misuse of alcohol and other drugs. One person in four experiences some form of problem with their mental health in the course of a year. And throughout the course of anyone’s life, it is highly likely that they will develop a mental health problem themselves or have close contact with someone who does.
Despite informative media campaigns and increased knowledge on the subject there is a social stigma associated with mental health problems. This maybe is particularly true within the Armed Forces community; and may hinder people from seeking help because they are concerned that it will affect their chances for promotion and might lead to them being medically downgraded.
PTSD is the most commons diagnosis by Combat Stress’ patient group, and often appears alongside a wide range of other problems including substance misuse and depression. Furthermore, it seems to take a long time for veterans to seek help for PTSD: on average, it takes 13 years from service discharge before an individual first makes contact with combat Stress. This may be a result of the stigma associated with mental health problems for Service personnel and veterans.
Research has indicated that certain sections of the Armed Forces community, may be at a higher risk that the general population of mental health problems. A study of UK Service personnel returning form deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan found that Reservists were twice as likely to experience mental health problems than colleagues who were not deployed. The same research found alcohol misuse to be a significant problem within the Armed Forces as a whole and that the risk of suicide among early Service Leavers aged 20-24 years and 20 years and below was two to three times higher than the same age groups in the general population.
“The Ministry of Defence recognises mental illness, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as a serious and disabling medical condition – but one which can be treated. Assessment and treatment is available for service personnel who might be concerned about their mental healthâ€.
While no system can ever guarantee to detect every individual at risk of mental illness, the following measures are in place to reduce risk and increase awareness at all levels:
- Personnel receive training and briefings to increase their awareness of mental health issues and stress management. This takes place throughout a career, but particularly prior to and after deployment on operations.
- All Medical Officers, Combat Medical Assistants and Nurses are trained to recognise the signs of mental illness, and Officers, Junior and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (JNCO/SNCOs) are routinely trained in methods of suicide prevention and stress management.
- “Decompression” is provided. This is a scheduled period following a deployment on operations in which personnel are given time to mentally and physically unwind, with time to talk to colleagues and superiors – with whom they deployed – about their experiences.
- Families of returning personnel are offered presentations and issued with leaflets to educate them about the possible after-effects of a a deployment on operations.
- Welfare Officers, Padres and other associated organisations also provide information to families by email, through support groups, Regimental systems and so on.
- Increasing use is made of Trauma Risk Management (TRiM), a model of peer-group mentoring and support for use in the aftermath of traumatic events.
“The Royal Logistic Corps takes the welfare of their soldiers seriously and supports and encourages personnel to have a better understanding of mental health problems. Mental Health First Aid England run mental health first aid training for the Armed Forces, this helps give the tools to raise awareness, provide initial help and guide personnel towards appropriate professional helpâ€. Jo Ayres ‘ Personnel Recovery and Transition Manager