Fourfold increase in Veterans seeking help for mental health

One of the UK’s leading mental health charity for Veterans, Combat Stress has revealed it has seen a fourfold increase in the number of ex-Service men and women seeking help for mental health conditions in the last 20 years. At the same time, the delay before Veterans seek help has fallen by more than 50 per cent.

In the first study of its kind in the UK, Combat Stress explored the patterns of referrals to their treatment centres from Veterans who had been deployed to a range of conflicts including Iraq, Afghanistan, the Falklands, the first Gulf War, and Northern Ireland. In 1994, the charity received 588 referrals from Veterans compared to 2,163 referrals in 2014. Over the same period the time it took for Veterans to contact the charity for help more than halved from 24 years in 1994 to just under 12 years in 2014.

During the 20 year period, Combat Stress received a total of 21,651 referrals from Veterans. The sharpest increase in demand for treatment came from those who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, who are seeking help four and two years respectively after leaving the Armed Forces. This can in part be attributed to an increased awareness in the media and among the public of mental health issues. The UK’s Defence Mental Health Service has also done much to promote help-seeking amongst Service personnel.

The research from Combat Stress suggests there will continue to be an increase in the number of Veterans seeking support for mental health conditions in the future. However, stigma around mental ill-health remains an issue.

Dr Walter Busuttil, Director of Medical Services at Combat Stress, commented: “It is very positive to see ex-Service men and women are coming forward sooner to access support for mental health conditions. However, stigma still surrounds mental illness which is leading to delays in help-seeking. There is much that remains to be done to reduce stigma around mental illness, so that Veterans reach out for the help they need sooner rather than later.  

“There is still a long way to go in ensuring every Veteran who faces mental ill-health has access to the right services. Given we have seen a steady increase in recent years of Veterans approaching us for support, which we expect to continue throughout the decade, we are developing our clinical services accordingly. The good news is that we do have treatments that work, but as the need for specialist treatment appears to be expanding we will need additional funding and resources to ensure the right care is delivered at the right time.”

With the support of Combat Stress, Veterans can expect to make significant steps towards recovery. A previous study by the charity showed 87% of Veterans who completed the unique Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Intensive Treatment Programme saw a reduction in their PTSD symptoms, an improvement maintained at their six-month follow-up.

On average it takes more than 13 years from Service discharge for Veterans to contact someone for help, by which time their condition is often highly complex