Veteran mental health, PTSD and the role of charities- Written by WWTW CEO Ed Parker
The majority of British military personnel leave the Armed Forces and enjoy a smooth transition into civilian life, but for some the shift from military to ‘Civvy Street’ is not so straightforward. Recent statistics from the Ministry of Defence found that diagnosis of mental health issues in veterans has doubled to 3 per cent in the past decade. However, some estimate that this figure could be as high as 10 per cent. Veteran mental health is a complex topic; it is important that we normalise conversations around this matter. This is how real change can happen.
In recent years, steps have been
taken to break the taboo around the subject and conversations are starting to
take place to help support the most vulnerable. This is particularly true in
the veteran community. In the past, veterans have faced stigma and prejudice
when leaving the Armed Forces. Arguably, the stigma around mental health is now
lower in the military and veteran communities compared to society as a whole.
Herein lies the issue. Our mission at Walking With The Wounded is to break the
stereotype of veterans as ‘mad, bad and sad’.
This distorted public perception is damaging to the veteran community. It
discourages some from seeking help when they need it the most, and it creates a
misconception that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the biggest mental
health issue facing veterans. Perhaps the media aid this misconception. Too
often films, TV programmes and newspapers depict veterans suffering from the
effects of PTSD because it makes ‘good drama’. This exaggerates fears over
veterans and mental health.
The term PTSD first came into use in the 1970s following the Vietnam War. It is a type of anxiety disorder, which may develop after experiencing a major traumatic event. Although rates of PTSD diagnosis have increased in the past 10 years, in part due to the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, they are still relatively low; between 4 and 7 per cent of veterans are affected by the condition. This figure is roughly in line with the general population. It is important to recognise the seriousness of PTSD; however, other conditions such as alcohol abuse affects 10 per cent and depression affects around 22 per cent of UK veterans. This is a much higher percentage and this issue needs to be addressed.
Military charities have carried out a great deal of work within the sector to reduce the stigma around mental health, and there has been a recent focus on collaboration within this sector. For example, ‘Heads Together’, an initiative spear headed by The Royal Foundation was set up to combat stigma around mental health and the military charities were represented in this campaign by Contact. Whilst charities that help veterans with PTSD will no doubt meet a high number of veterans suffering from the condition, military charities should be held accountable for the negative depiction of PTSD in the veteran community too. For example, many use images of veterans in crisis to help drive donations, adhering to the ‘mad, bad and sad’ stereotype.
The Government has also taken steps to address the rise of mental health diagnose. Nevertheless, issues remain in terms of delivery of healthcare services like access to treatment and levels of care delivery across the UK. Walking With The Wounded’s ‘Head Start’ programme was designed specifically to support veterans with their mental health. Moreover, we are working with other military charities and the NHS to deliver mental health services to the veteran community. For example, the National Health Service (NHS) has increased its spending into specific Armed Forces mental health services, such as Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service (TILS) and Complex Treatment Service (CTS); and at WWTW, we have aligned our veteran programmes closely to these services. Through both our own, and wider programmes, we aim to provide therapy for veterans within an average of 10 days and 10 miles of their home address. On the other hand, there is only so much support that charities are able to offer.
A glance at recent news stories shows that people are now taking notice of mental health. However, so much more can be done to support the ex-forces community and their families. As a society, we need to break the taboo around veteran mental health, only then can we really start to make a difference to those affected by it.
 Publications.parliament.uk. (2019). Mental Health and the Armed Forces, Part One: The Scale of mental health issues. [online] Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmdfence/813/813.pdf [Accessed 30 Aug. 2019].
 BBC News. (2019). 'Higher levels of PTSD among veterans'. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-45761546 [Accessed 30 Aug. 2019].