When we think of veterans and mental health issues, we often think of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If someone has been in uniform they are likely to end up with PTSD, right? The answer isn’t quite as simple as that. Most people leave the Armed Forces with sound mental health. In 2013, Forces in Mind Trust published a report stating that the rates of PTSD in veterans were similar to those of the general population (around 4%). However the report also found that there was a slightly higher risk for Service people who had been in combat operations. And while the rates of PTSD for veterans and those who have never served are about the same, according to Combat Stress, the UK’s leading mental health charity for veterans, PTSD amongst veterans is often more complex and can be linked to pain, disability and substance misuse, particularly alcohol.
For veterans who experience PTSD, life is tough. They live a fragile existence, troubled by insomnia, flashbacks and nightmares. A tradition like Guy Fawkes Night with the sound of fireworks can cause veterans to stay indoors to avoid reliving traumatic wartime experiences in their minds. Relationships can break down, jobs and houses lost. Occasionally symptoms can be hidden or buried for many years until something triggers them and brings them to the surface. PTSD is a real problem. However, veterans are statistically more likely to experience other mental health difficulties. Poppyscotland’s Household Survey (2014) showed that 10% of veterans have a mental health problem. The majority of these problems were around depression, anxiety and social isolation with only 2% of the total reporting PTSD.
Why is mental health a problem for veterans? The reasons are complex and we don’t have a definitive answer. Combat operations, particularly multiple tours, can take their toll. There may be problems moving from the military to civilian life: securing a home, finding and keeping a job, accessing statutory services and managing money can be a struggle. Isolation can also be a problem because making new friends and building existing relationships can involve a lot of trust and effort. For some veterans, they may have experienced mental health issues before joining up. The military routine and structure can instil positivity and motivation but what happens when that support system is no longer there? There may also be a reluctance to seek help for problems when they arise. Some veterans can experience stigma, which prohibits them from asking for help. Or they don’t know where to go for help. Others self-medicate with substances such as alcohol, which only masks the problem for so long.
Mental health support is a key area of work for Poppyscotland. Thanks to your support and the donations you make, we are able to tackle mental health problems and improve the lives and wellbeing of veterans.
Veterans First Point Highland
In partnership with NHS Highland we were instrumental in bringing this much-needed service to the Highlands. Launched earlier this year, a clinical
lead, two peer support workers and psychotherapist are based in our Inverness welfare centre. They are working alongside our existing team toprovide a range of mental health support, information and signposting to veterans living in the local area. The peer support element is key. Each peer support worker is ex-Service and understands the unique nature of military life and the challenges that can present. They will be the first point of contact for a veteran accessing the service and will guide them through the process, every step of the way.
Mental health problems can be a barrier to moving on in life and often cause problems in finding or keeping a job. However, people who are living with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions can benefit from opportunities that instil a sense of purpose, worth and confidence, such as volunteering or moving into a work placement or employment. That’s why we introduced Employ-Able, delivered by leading mental health charity SAMH. It is available across Scotland, offering one-to-one and group support to help veterans move forward in their lives. Launched in 2012, Employ-Able is going from strength to strength, with 105 veterans taking part in 2014/15.
We also award grants to specialist organisations that deliver mental health services for veterans. Most recently we awarded a grant of £25,000 to Combat Stress towards the cost of its occupational therapy service, delivered at its treatment centre in Ayrshire.
Thank you for your continued support, which is making a real difference to our Armed Forces community.
You can help us continue our great work in this area.
We know that many of you support us by taking part in our mailing campaigns such as raffles, the Little Remembrance Cross and Heart of Scotland, while others support us on a regular basis through monthly giving.
To find out more about how you can help us give those in the Armed Forces community a brighter future call 0131 550 1567 or email firstname.lastname@example.org