By Edward Parker, CEO, WWTW
In the Sunday Times and subsequently The Times on Monday I talked about mental health amongst ex-servicemen and women and how post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has become a “catch all” term for wounded veterans.
PTSD is a real issue and whilst we recognise the significance and deleterious effects of PTSD, it is important to realise that there are also men and women who, as a result of their service, have a greater propensity to depression, anxiety, adjustment disorder and also substance misuse, and getting the context right is important. These may not be diagnostic labels that attract the ill-perceived kudos of PTSD but the impact of these other conditions, all of which have negative and stigmatising connotations, can and do have equal debilitating effects on the sufferer and their families as PTSD.
The whole issue is complex and merits further understanding if we are to be more successful in how we support veterans. A recent public opinion poll revealed a belief that around 90% of those who serve are either physically or psychologically injured. This is far from the truth. Those who serve thrive both in and out of the Armed Forces, and after their service bring significant skills and experience to the civilian workplace. Overall, PTSD is no higher in prevalence than in the general population except those in the reserves and front line troops. About half of those who are diagnosed with PTSD are not directly related to their operational service and pre enlistment trauma and adversity often has a part to play in such diagnosis. Early service leavers (under 4 years in the military) are more vulnerable to common mental health disorders. These men and women have often left on administrative or disciplinary grounds and may not have adjusted to life in the services.
Walking With The Wounded focuses on the most vulnerable veterans, those who are often the hardest to reach, those who have found the transition from the military into the civilian world most challenging, and may now find themselves on a downward spiral that few help them break. To us these people are equally as deserving as those often put on a pedestal, with their bravery attracting, rightly, huge attention. The impact of supporting them is often more meaningful, both from a financial and social perspective.
Our aim is to help veterans achieve their independence outside the military, so they can provide security for themselves and their family. One of the core pillar’s of this is getting a job. We focus on those who have been homeless, those who find themselves in police custody, those who are unemployed and those suffering from mental health problems. These men and women are often the hardest to reach, and too often are not able to find the support they need.
While we focus on improving the employability and skills of those we work with, we also address directly the challenges of mental health. Our programme, Head Start, works in partnership with the NHS to provide private therapy to veterans. Within the cohort who are homeless or within police custody, around two thirds have some form of mental illness, and so it is vital we address this, not only to improve their potential for getting a job, but subsequently regaining their independence.
While many have found the transition difficult, and have found themselves in dire circumstances, we nearly always find their spirit is still there, hidden away, and with some support and direction they swiftly return to being positive contributors within our society.