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18 May 2023 | Comment | Article by Simon Ellis

The mental challenges faced by military personnel

Mental health awareness is an important issue, especially among military personnel who often face unique challenges and experiences during their service.

Our specialist Military lawyers are actively involved in advising and assisting current and former military personnel with various health conditions and injuries.

Marking Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, Hugh James associate Leigh Bowen discusses the challenges faced by military personnel exposed to stressful and traumatic situations which can have a significant impact on their mental health.

Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) takes place between 15 and 21 May 2023 and this year’s theme is anxiety. Anxiety of differing levels can impact us all. However, it can become unmanageable and start to affect our wellbeing if not addressed. The important thing to remember is that there is help out there to manage and improve the negative feelings.

It is important encourage everyone to engage in discussion and promote positive mental health, especially in stressful environments, such as the military. With the right support, individuals can be free to come forward and raise any mental health issues, free of judgment and stigma. This is important, as talking about feelings is imperative to understand what things mean in our mind. Sometimes sharing our own stories can help others. It could be the encouragement someone else needs to open up. There are other coping strategies that are employed on a day-to-day basis to help cope with mental health issues. Physical and mental health are interconnected. Exercise is a good way to keep the mind positive, as well as a healthy sleeping pattern, and healthy eating, to name but a few.”

As specialist military lawyers, we act for veterans and serving personnel who struggle with their mental health for a variety of different reasons. One of these mental health conditions is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a type of anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events. For military personnel, this can stem from the trauma they have witnessed/experienced during their time on operational tours during service.

PTSD can develop immediately after experiencing a disturbing event, but can also be of delayed onset, sometimes years later. It is normal to experience upsetting and confusing thoughts after a traumatic event, and many improve naturally over a period of weeks. However, not all. If symptoms are more long term, then your GP can refer to specialists who can help. In the veteran community (England), this can be such organisations as Op Courage, which is an umbrella term for the Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service (TILS), the Complex Treatment Service (CTS) and the High Intensity Service (HIS). There is also Veterans NHS within Wales. There are many mental health charities outside of the NHS structure that can also provide care and support e.g. Combat Stress. The Samaritans have a specific web page for veterans, which sets out the assistance they can provide.

We are not all the same, so individuals may respond differently to particular treatments. Some of the most common treatments for PTSD include Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT) and Eye Movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). Put simply, TF-CBT is a type of talking therapy to help people come to terms with a traumatic event and EMDR involves recalling the traumatic incident in detail whilst making eye movements. Such therapies may help change the negative way that individuals think about an experience. Such treatments can also work in conjunction with medication.

No one should feel alone struggling with their mental health and we encourage those reluctant to seek help to make that initial step and seek the support available, such as: Mental wellbeing advice for veterans & ex-forces | Veterans’ Gateway and the Samaritans dedicated resource for veterans.

If you have struggled with your mental health during your time in the military, please get in contact with our specialist military solicitors.

Author bio

Simon Ellis is a Partner with Hugh James and has worked with the firm for more than 25 years, having trained and qualified here. Simon heads up the Military Department, advising and assisting current and former military personnel with various health conditions and injuries. He specialises in claims such as hearing loss, non-freezing cold injuries, compartment syndrome and military injury cases. He is often asked to advise on more unusual claims in the military context.

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