Unless you are part of the military, you may assume that the majority of injuries and illnesses sustained by those serving their country will be lost limbs from landmines and bombs, or bullet wounds from close combat.
Those brave men and women who are deployed to foreign lands to fight wars that the public only see in the media (from the safety and comfort of their homes), risk serious injury or even death. But they also risk something that can impact on their lives and their loved ones’ lives, long after their tours of duty have ended – mental illness.
The Independent recently analysed Armed Forces Compensation Scheme statistics which showed that the number of mental illness pay-outs per year has increased by 379%, equating to 580 cases in 2015/2016. This represents the highest total in the eleven years that the scheme has been running.
According to this article, mental health professionals say the timing of this increase in cases, mirrors the expected time lag before Afghanistan and Iraq veterans start to experience symptoms of mental illness and seek help. These numbers are only set to increase.
I have argued the case before, saying that mental illness, due to its often intangible nature, is something that people and institutions often struggle with. That might be in terms of sufferers getting the immediate help they require from emergency services; it might be in terms of how mental health is perceived in the workplace.
Now it may be the turn of veterans to suffer the injustice of having an illness that has hidden wounds. It has been reported that, once back from several years of tours, many veterans have gone to war again – this time with the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS). Due to the invisible nature of mental illness, the AFCS has failed to give veterans suitable pay-outs; pay-outs they fully deserve.
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is probably the most common mental illness associated with those brave people who served their country. But alarmingly, according to a consultant psychiatrist who served for 16 years in the RAF, “…the biggest problem from Iraq and Afghanistan is a very high rate of alcohol misuse, and then there are common mental illnesses – a bit of depression, a bit of anxiety, a bit of panic.”
I have the utmost respect for anyone who potentially puts their life on the line and serves in the armed forces. But I fear that this respect isn’t reciprocated when veterans return home and are suffering with the hidden scars of combat, which then manifest themselves in mental illness.
The Shaw Mind Foundation would love to hear from any veterans who have first-hand experience of mental illness caused by their tours of duty. We actively encourage you, your friends or colleagues to share your journey with mental health issues. Your story could be chosen by our publishing panel (Trigger Press) for publication. That will take it to a worldwide audience, and provide invaluable proceeds to our charity, The Shaw Mind Foundation. Best of all, it will help other ex-service personnel and their families who are going through the same difficulties.
If you would like our free guide to Military and Mental Health please order it below.