Mental Health affects many of us on a day to day basis, whether we ourselves suffer from a mental health condition or whether we have friends or family who do so. Whilst traditionally there has been a stigma associated with mental health, society is increasingly recognising the importance of addressing issues associated with mental health and promoting mental wellbeing.
This year Mental Health Awareness Week, which takes place between 14 and 18 May, is focussing on stress. Whilst there is no medical definition of stress and stress is not a psychiatric diagnosis, it is closely linked to causing mental health problems and exacerbating mental health conditions.
Often individuals refer to being stressed when they are in a situation where extreme pressure is put on them or when reacting to being placed under pressure. When considering the role of British military personnel, it is apparent that they are regularly exposed to stressful situations that do not only place them at risk of physical injuries but also to mental health problems. Physical injuries sustained during military service are often obvious, but this may not be true for mental injuries that can occur at the same time.
Military personnel may experience mental health problems during service or much later on after they have settled back into civilian life. Mental health symptoms are often as debilitating as a physical injury. Such mental health conditions may include combat stress, trauma, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD).
The symptoms of a mental health condition can dramatically affect an individual’s life. They can cause work-related and personal relationship problems, feelings of emptiness, suicidal thoughts, self-harming, mood swings, panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, anger or aggressive behaviours, misuse of substances and the avoidance of certain situations. Those suffering from mental health issues sustained during military service are unlikely to regard them as minor or trivial. These injuries can also have an enormous impact on friends and family members.
Should an individual suffer or know of somebody that suffers from any of these symptoms, they should seek advice from a medical professional such as their GP if he/she has left service, or from the Defence Medical Services if they are currently serving in the Armed Forces. Early intervention is often key in addressing the problem.
The Ministry of Defence, together with the NHS, have set up projects specifically for military personnel suffering from a mental health condition.
Military personnel may consider contacting the following:
Veterans and Reserves can contact the following:
Outside the NHS and military, the following mental health charities may also be contacted:
The importance of addressing and educating others in relation to mental health conditions is vitally important, and campaigns such as Mental Health Awareness Week are a fantastic way of raising awareness and encouraging people to talk about their problems and seek help.
In addition to seeking medical help, legal assistance may also be required. Individuals who believe they suffer from, or have been diagnosed with, PTSD, which they believe is the result of the military failing to provide support following a particular incident, should also seek legal advice on their options. By its very nature, military life can expose individuals to sights and sounds rarely (if ever) encountered in a civilian setting. Where military personnel develop PTSD or some other form of mental illness as a result and the MOD are (or should be) on notice of this, the MOD is under a duty to consider what steps to take to protect that individual from further harm during their future service.
Mental health illness in the military population has long been recognised as a problem and the increased awareness of this amongst the general public is a welcome development. We hope events like Mental Health Awareness Week will help to ensure this issue is never forgotten and military personnel affected by mental health issues will continue to get the help and support they need.