For the men and women who serve the armed forces, they are constantly exposed to exceptional mental health risks while they are on active duty. Once these soldiers return to their civilian lives, the problems would begin to surface. Mental health services are given by the Ministry of Defence. Majority of the war veterans who need mental health services use the voluntary sector or the NHS.

A large majority of the British military personnel are not prone to having mental health problems even when they are on active duty or they return to civilian life. But even so, these people are at risk in facing particular situations which will need mental health services and treatment.

Having to do combat duties can be a risk for mental health. It is a violent and disturbing experience where it can lead to severe mental problems. Other things such as drinking which are found to be prevalent in the service personnel and the stress from making a transition from institutional life returning to a civilian life.

Five million veterans and their eight million dependants live in the UK. Another 180,000 servicing personnel are also included. Only a few numbers of these military personnel suffer from mental health problems but this is not cause to neglect their problems.

Risks for people in service

Little research has been done in the mental health of armed forces personnel in the UK as compared to other countries like the United States. But various UK researches have showed that there is a link between mental health problems and active service:

  • 22% of the sample from Falklands War veterans showed that they have symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is of higher percentage when compared to the general population.
  • The troops deployed in the first Gulf War back in 1991 suffered higher levels of psychological fatigue and distress than the general population even after many years had passed since the war ended.
  • The body handlers in the Gulf War showed 50% of them experienced PTSD symptoms.
  • The psychological difficulties gathered in a small sample of British troops were shown to have increased by 50% even after their return from active duty in the conflict from Northern Ireland.
  • 1,897 British service personnel were treated for problems regarding their mental health because of their deployment to Iraq. The study was made on June 2006.

Risks for war veterans

There have not been enough studies done to know the mental health conditions of the 18,000 service personnel who return to civilian life every year. But research indicates that those who have mental health issues during their active duty are most probably going to leave the force. Once this happens they will lose access to mental health services given by the Ministry of Defence. Only 50% of them will seek medical help from NHS. Those who do seek treatment will be prescribed with anti-depressants. Very few are advised to see a specialist for mental health.

The war veterans’ problems in their mental health are made worse by post-service factors like having difficulty in returning to civilian life or their marital problems. Former service personnel are also prone to homelessness or social exclusion. These two factors contribute to mental health problems. Studies done by the Crisis and the Ex-Services Action Group showed that 25% of homeless people had once served the armed forces. Meanwhile, the Alcohol Recovery Project showed that 9% of their clients were also ex-military personnel. This demonstrates the risks of the drinking culture of the armed forces.

Mental health problems primarily affecting military personnel

Both military personnel and the general public suffer the same problems regarding their mental health. But the majority of service personnel begin to suffer from mental problems when they return to their civilian lives from their active military duty. Other factors like PTSD, anxiety, depression, and alcohol and substance abuse can contribute significantly to a minority of veterans and service personnel.

Support services for veteran and personnel

For those who still serve the army, they are entitled to a different mental health services as compared to those who have already left the force.

Support for service military personnel

People who are still serving the armed forces are given mental health services by the Defence Medical Services (DMS) together with the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Treatments for outpatients are available in 15 regional Community Mental Health Teams managed by the run by the DMS. For those personnel who need inpatient care will be referred to The Priory Group, which the MoD has arranged, or to an available NHS hospital.

Support for war veterans

War veterans are entitled to NHS treatment only which are not designed to their particular needs. But NHS doctors can recommend a veteran to priority care if he is a war pensioner. War veterans should consult their doctors first but most of their doctors cannot understand what the veterans truly need for their treatment.

The MoD and NHS began working on six sites for war veterans – the Community Based Veterans Mental Health Services – to provide a direct pathway to NHS care for ex-service personnel. War veterans who were shown to have been affected by their duties and that their needs are not completely understood by NHS can now avail a mental health assessment from MoD under their Medical Assessment Programme available at the St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

The armed forces welfare support services are the ones responsible for the war veterans’ shift to civilian care for their mental health. There is a minister in charge for war veterans to ensure that there are services available for them that are coordinated with government.

Reservists who were demobilised since January 2003 are still entitled to receive mental health care from the DMS. British reservists who were in Iraq have a higher risk of developing a mental health problem associated with their work than those who work full-time.

The Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA) is a part of MoD, which acts to give advice to active military personnel, former service personnel and all their dependents. The SPVA is also in charge of the War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Schemes. These plans provide payment to the personnel for their illness that happens as a result of their service.

Aside from NHS, the Combat Stress is a charity where it provides a specialist for inpatients and outpatients care for mental health concerns to the veterans. Other groups and organisations, like the Community Housing and Therapy, can provide services for the former service personnel.