Healing the hidden wounds

Ella Rhodes reports on mental health services for the military.

An IAPT programme aimed at veterans, their families and the families of serving personnel has been launched by charity Help for Heroes. Founded in partnership with the University of Exeter, it aims to treat common mental disorders (CMDs), which recent research has found to be twice as likely in people in the military.

An article published in Psychological Medicine, led by King’s Centre for Military Health Research at the Institute of Psychiatry and discussed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme in March, examined probable CMDs in serving military personnel compared to the general working population. The odds of mental disorder were around double in the military (tinyurl.com/ok973rs). Although much research has focused on post-traumatic stress disorder, it is disorders such as anxiety and depression that are more prevalent.

The research in question did use self-report questionnaires, with their attendant limitations, but the increased risk is alarming. Help for Heroes’ Head of Psychological Wellbeing, Dr Vanessa Lewis, said that although it was impossible to predict who would go on to develop a CMD, there were ways to help minimise the risk or at least make it easier for people to report symptoms. Dr Lewis said: ‘Educating people, raising awareness of mental health issues and stress management are all incredibly important. We have a group of people who may shy away from recognising symptoms of mental health problems. Stigma is still rife although it’s getting better, but education and raising awareness are still vital.’

Lewis said the Ministry of Defence is raising awareness of stigma and provides support to active servicemen and women who may have mental health problems. Once a person makes the transition from the armed forces into civilian life there are 10 veteran-specific NHS IAPT centres in England where staff have a deeper understanding of the effects of combat and military life.

The charity’s service was set up as part of the Help for Heroes Hidden Wounds Psychological Support Programme. The Step 2 CBT self-help programmes can be accessed over the phone, via Skype or face to face. It is delivered by psychological well-being practitioners, using workbooks and practical tools to help people understand and manage their emotions. 

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