One in four people can experience mental health problems in their lives, and those who have been in the armed forces are no exception to this. In fact veterans can be at an increased risk due to the difficulties that they sometimes face transferring from military to civilian life.
Despite this, those veterans who suffer from mental health problems can often delay seeking help for many years after they have returned home from active service.
Symon Day, clinical psychologist and veterans lead at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“When people think of veterans’ mental health, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often the first thing that comes to mind. However, whilst it’s true that veterans are susceptible to PTSD due to the traumatic events which they can be exposed to during combat, it’s important to remember that they can also suffer from a range of other mental health problems too, just like everybody like else.
“The experiences people have during their military service, or in trying to adjust to civilian life after leaving the forces, can sometimes lead to anxiety, depression, stress or even alcohol and drug misuse.”
Veterans who are experiencing any of these issues should contact their GP in the first instance, however, there are also a number of veterans’ wellbeing groups operating across the north east which veterans can access themselves without a referral.
The groups were set up by the two mental health trusts in the north east, Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV) and Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (NTW), and provide veterans with a twelve week wellbeing programme to help them with mental health issues as well as supporting them to adjust to civilian life.
Anna Burke, consultant nurse in military veterans mental health at Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“The large majority of military personnel leave the armed forces with good physical and mental health. However, for those veterans who do experience mental health issues, their military training and the sense of pride that comes with it can often make them put off seeking help. They can also be reluctant to speak to somebody who doesn’t share their military background.
“In recognition of these barriers, the veterans’ wellbeing groups were set up to provide another option for veterans who are struggling to come forward about their mental health issues. They bring veterans facing similar problems together and are led by clinicians who have received training in military culture, providing peer support as well as help from a mental health professional.”
The veterans’ wellbeing groups provide an introduction to various mental health topics, such as depression and anxiety, as well as how to manage them and maintain wellbeing. The groups also include sessions on finding employment and adjusting to civilian life.
Former soldier Lee, from Ferryhill, took part in the first veterans wellbeing group arranged by TEWV. Lee served in the Falklands and Northern Ireland. When he began to experience problems including flashbacks and sweats he thought it was normal. Despite knowing about some veterans’ mental health issues, he hadn’t recognised the symptoms in himself.
Lee said: “I just thought it was the norm. It was only talking to other people that I realised I could get help and treatment.
“It’s fantastic that the NHS is running courses like this for us. Although we’ve all got different issues to address, we all share similar experiences and are like a ‘band of brothers’. The beauty of this course is the theory included in it. You learn how to recognise things like anger and anxiety as well as how to deal with them.”
NTW and TEWV are also delivering training to their frontline mental health staff across the region to raise awareness about military culture and identity. This training will help staff to understand the needs of veterans who access mental health services and therefore provide better support to aid their recovery.
Anyone experiencing mental health issues should contact their GP in the first instance. Veterans who would like to find out more about the wellbeing groups taking place in their area should contact:
Veterans’ wellbeing groups in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear:
Call 0191 478 8700 or email email@example.com
Veterans’ wellbeing groups in Teesside, County Durham and North Yorkshire
Call 01388 646831or email firstname.lastname@example.org
TEWV also provides a community mental health service for veterans in County Durham, Darlington, Teesside, Hartlepool and North East Yorkshire. Call 01388 646800 or email email@example.com for more information.
Veterans can also call Combat Stress’ free 24 hour helpline on 0800 138 1619 or find free online support for mental health issues at www.bigwhitewall.com
Kenny Helyer – communications officer
0191 210 6493 / firstname.lastname@example.org
For out of hours media contacts ring 0191 210 6482.