Mental Health Awareness Week
What have we learned this week about mental health?
“Mental health influences how we think and feel about ourselves and others and how we interpret events. It affects our capacity to learn, to communicate and to form, sustain and end relationships. It also influences our ability to cope with change, transition and life events (moving house, jobs, bereavement) ”
Lynn Friedli 2004 World Health Organisation
Much has been said this week about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst the veterans’ community, not least by Johnny Mercer
MP former of my Regiment, 29 Commando. This blog focuses on that group. I have provided various useful links.
We know that most people will seek medical help with physical injuries, but less so for mental health problems. Why is that? One of the main factors is stigma.
81% of veterans suffering from a mental disorder said they felt ashamed or embarrassed by their situation. This fear of stigma
, and discrimination
means, that more than 1 in 3 couldn’t own up about their problems:
“We have found that on average people wait just over 13 years after leaving the Armed Forces before getting in contact with us. This is too long. The longer they wait the worse they get. I am urging Veterans and their loved ones to pick up the phone”
Commodore Andrew Cameron, Chief Executive of Combat Stress
But are each of those troubled men and women suffering from PTSD or, do have they another mental disorder requiring a different type of treatment?
is caused by ‘very stressful, frightening or distressing events’
- A serious road accident
- Violent personal assaults, such as sexual assault, a mugging or robbery
- Prolonged sexual abuse, violence or severe neglect
- Witnessing violent deaths
- Military combat (my emphasis)
- Being held hostage
- Terrorist attacks
- Natural disasters, such as severe floods, earthquakes or tsunamis
Evidently PTSD cannot be caused by losing your job, or a marriage breakdown. There must have been a traumatic event
There are said to be more than 300 service charities, many of which are working really hard to promote their support for our brave men and women but it does appear that questions have been raised about who is diagnosing our veterans with mental health disorders, particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and whether the treatment they are providing conforms with the recommendations and guidelines
from NICE (the National Institute of Clinical Excellence). I’ve even heard stories of so called experts
offering to cure someone of their mental health problems using crystals. The only treatments for PTSD which are approved and endorsed by NICE are Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR
) and Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT
So, I had the privilege this week of hearing a presentation by the Royal Marines Association
. They run a successful Veterans Recovery Programme for their Marines. Upon referral they are seen by a psychotherapist, who is on the relevant professional qualification register, and the treatments and support carefully conform with the NICE guidelines – the gold standard. Combat Stress also provides a dedicated helpline and mental health service for veterans and their families with mental health problems. I have covered this in an earlier blog.
It is critical that our veterans get trustworthy mental health care for their problems and that starts with a correct diagnosis from a qualified specialist.
The MOD produces its own mental health statistics. The most recent study shows that the proportion of UK armed forces personnel assessed with a mental disorder in 2015/16
was 3.1%, of which (of that 3.1%):
- 35% were assessed as having an adjustment disorder
- 31% with mood disorders (anxiety and depression)
- 25% with other neurotic disorders (self-harm, eating disorders, bipolar)
- 6% suffering from PTSD
- 5% with substance misuse; and
- 2% with other mental disorders
(The figures don’t add up to exactly 100% owing to some personnel presenting with more than one disorder)
Whilst on the face of it, the number of serving personnel assessed as suffering from PTSD seem relatively low, I think that in the years to come, we will see a spike amongst the veterans community. Between 2001 and 2014, our armed forces were involved in the bloodiest combat operations to be experienced in generations. Iraq and Afghanistan became our Vietnam and I foresee that many of those who fought in those battles will, eventually, come to share their grief and seek professional help.
Don’t bottle it up guys.