Mental Ilness and the Military - Does More Need to be Done?

17th May 2019 Armed Forces Claims

As has been widely publicised in the press and social media, this week (13 19 May 2019) is Mental Health Awareness Week. Although in the past, mental health has been seen as somewhat a ‘taboo’ subject, thankfully it seems that there has been a shift in society’s view towards the same. This has resulted in more individuals opening up about their personal battles with their mental health and the impact that suffering from a mental health illness can have on one’s life than ever before. We are now seeing celebrities share their experiences of mental health symptoms they suffer from on their social medial platforms, colleagues feel that they can now take time off from work with mental health illnesses without their careers being jeopardised, and communities feel comfortable to share their personal struggles with mental health with their peers.

Service in the armed forces can lead to individuals being involved in situations that trigger mental health problems, such as PTSD or anxiety. Further, the transition from serving to returning to civilian life can be a difficult time, and veterans can suffer from anxiety, depression and substance abuse as a result of adapting to this change. It is not to be forgotten that the families of those serving in the military can also be affected by mental health problems either as a result of supporting their loved one who has a mental health condition or the transition that they too make when a loved one leaves the military.

Whilst in the wider community large charges have been made over the last few years to promote acceptance and awareness of mental health illnesses, it can be questioned whether the steps have been taken within the military to the same extent.

The Armed Forces team at JMW Solicitors receives a significant number of enquiries on a daily basis from both veterans and those still serving seeking advice following the diagnosis of a mental health condition as a result of their service. As a department, we have seen too many cases whereby the support for individuals in the military hasn’t been there or where they have ultimately been medically discharge with no ongoing care plan in place. This leaves the individual to their own devices at a time when they are most vulnerable often leading to isolation and deteriorating mental health.

Whilst there are some programmes such as the Veterans and Reserves Mental Health Programme (VRMHP) and the government has announced, this week, that they are providing further funding to put support networks and resources in place, more needs to be done.

In our view, the MOD needs to take greater responsibility. It’s admirable to reduce the stigma of mental health but the infrastructure needs to be there when people come forward. They need to be confident that speaking up won’t necessarily lead to an adverse outcome such as medical discharge meaning loss of job, home and “military family„. They need to be confident that, if ongoing service is not possible, they will have the support available when they leave with a fully managed care package with a dedicated case manager overseeing it. It’s not good enough to discharge someone and leave it to them to find the support they need as often they don’t know where to turn. The MOD should also follow up with veterans at stages post medical discharge to ensure that they are managing and are accessing the support they need.

The suicide toll in the veteran community is shocking and the worry is that until more is done, ongoing tragedies will continue.

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Clare Stevens is a Partner located in Manchesterin our Personal Injury department

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