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armed forces and mental health

armed forces and mental health

serving in the armed forces can be a rewarding and honourable career, but it comes with its own unique set of challenges that can impact mental health

Military personnel face unique experiences and challenges that can impact them physically and mentally. These demands often lead to significant stress and emotional strain. That’s why mental wellbeing is such a crucial aspect of overall health for armed forces members and veterans. 

From the stress of deployment to the trauma of combat, military personnel are exposed to situations that can lead to various mental health issues, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. The Ministry of Defence states that 12.5% of UK armed forces personnel received care from military healthcare services for a mental health-related issue. 

Veterans often face additional challenges as they transition from a military environment to civilian life. The shift can be jarring, leading to feelings of isolation and difficulty adjusting to everyday life. Mental health support for both current and former armed forces members is crucial to help them navigate these challenges and maintain their wellbeing. 

Three misconceptions  about armed forces and mental health

PTSD is the most common mental health condition among veterans 

According to Help for Heroes UK, 7% of veterans have PTSD. Anxiety and depression are more common mental health conditions among veterans. 

only combat veterans experience PTSD

PTSD can affect anyone who has experienced a traumatic event, not just those who have seen combat. Military personnel can develop PTSD from a variety of experiences, including training accidents or non-combat missions.

talking about mental health will harm my career

Seeking help for mental health issues is a responsible action. Many armed forces organisations have measures in place to support their members without it impacting their career.

I work in the armed forces. How to support myself mentally?

While the physical and mental demands of being in the armed forces can be huge, it’s essential to take proactive steps to support your mental health while serving. Here are some strategies to help:

Recognise the signs  

Be aware of the common symptoms of mental health issues, such as persistent sadness, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and changes in sleep or appetite. Early recognition and intervention are key.

Seek professional help 

Do not hesitate to contact a mental health professional. As listed at the end of the webpage, there are many military organisations have confidential counselling services available.

Build a support network

Stay connected with family, friends or colleagues. Social support can provide emotional comfort and practical help.

Practice self-care

Engage in activities that promote relaxation and wellbeing, such as exercise, meditation or hobbies. 

I am a veteran.
H
ow can I support myself?
 

Transitioning to civilian life after serving in the armed forces can be challenging. Veterans may experience a range of emotions and difficulties during this period. Here are ways to support your mental health as a veteran: 

Stay connected

Maintain relationships with fellow veterans who understand your experiences. Peer support can be incredibly valuable. You might want to visit the Veterans Community Café if you are in Edinburgh.  

The Veterans Community Café was set up to help veterans isolated due to mental health issues, to address loneliness through contact with other veterans. The café is held every Wednesday from 6pm to 9pm at Change Mental Health’s Stafford Centre in Edinburgh where veterans can benefit from peer support.

Read more here.

Plan your transition

If you are transitioning to civilian life, plan ahead. Seek career counselling and transition assistance programmes to help you adjust. 

Monitor your health

Keep regular appointments with healthcare providers and be proactive about addressing any health concerns, including mental health. 

Find purpose

Engage in meaningful activities, whether it’s a new job, volunteer work or a hobby. Having a sense of purpose can improve mental wellbeing. 

How do I support others? 

Supporting someone in the armed forces or a veteran struggling with mental health issues can be immensely valuable. Here are some ways you can offer your support: 

Listen without judgement: Offer a non-judgmental ear to those who may be struggling. Sometimes, just being there to listen can make a big difference.

Encourage professional help: Gently encourage them to seek professional support if they are reluctant to do so. Offer to help them find resources or accompany them to appointments.

Be patient and understanding: Recovery from mental health issues can take time. Be patient and continue to offer your support.

Peer support: Consider joining a peer support group. Sharing experiences with fellow military personnel who understand your challenges can provide significant emotional support and practical advice.

Look for warning signs: Be aware of warning signs such as withdrawal, dissociation, changes in mood or behaviour and talk of self-harm. If you notice these, encourage them to seek immediate help and offer your assistance in doing so.

support

Our Advice and Support Service is open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, where advisers can signpost you to local support that most fits your needs, including our Change Mental Health services. We offer initial advice on money worries and help to deal with emergencies.  

Contact 0808 8010 515, email us at advice@changemh.org or fill out the enquiry form on the Advice and Support Service page. 

Other support

Veterans First Point Scotland is a service designed by veterans to support veterans. They provide a range of support services. 

Combat Stress provides mental health services to veterans across the UK. They offer a 24-hour Helpline at 0800 138 1619. 

SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association) provides lifelong support to serving men and women and veterans from the British Armed Forces and their families. You can call them at 0800 260 6780. 

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