Call for Action: Do Veterans and Ex-Service Personnel Lack Support Against Mental Health Problems?

By Christine Barton on April 04, 2012

Not everyone who joins the military experiences mental health issues during and after the service. However, there’s always a possibility that some of them will. Men and women are very much exposed to mental health risks while they’re in active duty and the problems will surface once they leave the military. The case of Lee Bonsall for instance – a former soldier of the British Armed Forces who was found hanged at his home in Tenby recently, is a clear picture of an alarming risk that is associated in being with the military. As family and friends remembered his life, Serena Bonsall, Lee’s wife, called for greater mental health support for the ex-service personnel.

It is estimated that there are 5 million veterans in the UK and about 20,000 personnel leave the military forces every year. The mental health problems experienced by ex-military personnel are the same with those that are experienced by the general population. But the risk gets higher when they encounter difficult situations during the service and when they exit the armed forces and transcend back to their civilian life. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are among the mental health issues faced by some service personnel and veterans. These are aggravated by the loss of support from families and social networks, professional pressures, marital problems, and so on. They are also vulnerable to homelessness and social exclusion. On the 2010 Survey of Needs and Provision (SNAP), it was found that even though the risk of homelessness among ex-service personnel is not high, it is widespread.

What kind of support do they get?

During the length of stay in the armed forces, soldiers are provided by the military with health assistance. But the moment they leave the service, their healthcare is transferred to the NHS. There are a number of government and non-government organisations in the UK that specifically address the mental health needs of former soldiers.

First on the list is the Medical Assessment Programme (MAP). MAP was established in 1993 to examine veterans who were concerned that their mental wellbeing has been affected by the service. MAP is a free national service, providing a range of medical assistance to qualified ex-personnel.

Then there’s the Reserves’ Mental Health Programme (RMHP). The organisation is open to those who have been in the service since 2003 and developed mental health problems and disabilities due to their work as military personnel.

The MoD and the NHS have implemented six projects across the UK that aim to raise awareness and understanding among NHS staff and improve access to their services.

Combat Stress is a charity that provides mental health services to in-patient and out-patient veterans. There are so many other organisations that provide mental health support to veterans and ex-personnel.

Are the support services enough?

There’s not enough information and research to assess the level of support received by the British armed forces as compared to other countries like the US. What is known is that only half of ex-service personnel experiencing mental health problems sought help from the NHS, and those that did were rarely referred to specialists. But according to the Ministry of Defence, the mental health of service personnel is their top priority and they have a robust system in place to identify problems and treat personnel who are suffering from it including those who have been deployed from the armed forces.

What do you think? Are the veterans and ex-service personnel being given enough support both by the government and the community? Or is there still a need for a bigger call for action?

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