The Mental Health of Ex Forces Members

 27th Oct 2016

When it comes to mental health, we can often associate the development of conditions with stress, substance abuse, relationships and other environmental factors.

However, an area of life which affects millions of people the world over can often be overlooked.

Due to the intense nature of working in a military capacity and the inevitable consequences this can involve, ex forces members are often severely affected by mental health symptoms and this can have a profound effect on their quality of life.

Military Soldier

In the UK, approximately 20,000 soldiers leave the Armed Forces each year, many of which are able to make smooth transition back into civilian life with minimal problems.

For some, however, the experience of engaging in regular combat, losing close friends in battle and being exposed to the harsh conditions of overseas conflicts can take its toll on both the body and the mind.

There have been several studies published which aimed to identify the possible effects of military service on an individual’s mental wellbeing.

One in particular reviewed the lives of 10,000 personnel of which 83% were regulars and 27% were reservists.

It concluded that common mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression were increasingly common for those who had entered service.

In addition, alcohol misuse was also a common problem for military personnel with 13% of those surveyed being affected by this problem.

Furthermore, members of the regular forces who had been deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan were at higher risk of alcohol misuse when compared with those who had not been deployed.

The study also found that there was no link between the type or severity of mental health problems developed by personnel and the number of times they had been deployed.

These findings relate to members of the Armed Forces who were, at the time, actively serving in their roles, however, mental health can also become a serious problem for veterans too.

Furthermore, veterans who are largely unaffected by their time in the military can still encounter obstacles long after leaving service.

For instance, spending excessive amounts of time in combat can make the inevitable move back to civilian routine challenging given the extreme change in lifestyle this involves.

Consequently, this may lead to depression, marital issues and can also make integration to conventional working environments difficult.

However, rather surprisingly, there was a relatively low rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This may be a result of the nature of combat changing considerably over the years.

Conflicts are now often fought over long distances with fewer casualties being suffered when compared with battles such as World War II and The Vietnam War.

Despite the overall number of cases being relatively low, a study conducted by the King’s Centre for Military Health at King’s College London found that, amongst soldiers who had actively engaged in combat, 7% suffered from PTSD.

This is a clear example of how traumatising combat engagements can be as those who fell into this category were 133% more likely to develop the condition.

It is also important to note that, despite the total number of PTSD cases being similar to the levels found within the general population, the nature and severity of these is often drastically different and more complex.

Recently, The Independent published an article covering how wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have affected military personnel after record numbers of mental health related payouts to veterans had been recorded.

After analysing data from the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, it was clear that the number of mental health disorder claims had seen an astounding increase of 379% from 121 (2009-2010) to 580 (2015-2016).

This was the highest this figure had been in over 10 years.

Professionals in the mental health field state these numbers are largely attributable to the two aforementioned wars and that they are merely “the tip of the iceberg” with claims rising by 35% (429 to 580) last year alone.

There has also been an abundance of anecdotal evidence which highlights the issue of many veterans failing to obtain adequate compensation for their mental injuries.

Mr Upson exemplary story details how a 14 year career, involving the original invasion of Iraq and two tours of Afghanistan left him with serious PTSD which rendered him unable to work and suicidal.

Despite this, the veteran originally received just £3,000 of compensation for this trauma.

The news of ongoing increases to mental health compensation claims in the military coupled with the long term suffering endured by many veterans after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are strong reminders of how serious the effects of conflict can be on both the body and the mind.

Despite the overall number of deaths falling in the army, mental health problems are still rife and can have far-reaching consequences in a person’s domestic life even after retirement.

These issues need to be addressed effectively in order to protect the wellbeing of existing and prospective soldiers as well as those who have served.

Encompass Dorset is a registered charity working to improve the lives of people living with learning disabilities and enduring mental health illnesses.

Learn more about Encompass and the work we do by clicking here.

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