Mental health issues increasing amongst UK war veterans

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A charity has stated that they have seen an increase in the number of UK Afghanistan conflict veterans who are seeking help for mental health issues.

Combat Stress stated that it had received 358 new veteran referrals during 2013. This is an increase of 57% on 2012 Afghanistan veteran referrals.

The charity said that veterans normally wait about 13 years after serving before they seek help, however this has fallen to an average time wait of 18 months for those who served in Afghanistan.

The charity’s case load of more than 5400 veterans across the country is the largest during its 95-year history.

Caroline Wyatt, BBC defence correspondent, said that there is greater awareness of the psychological trauma nowadays and this may be the reason for the increase. She also said that the stigma attached to mental health issues has decreased over the years. She stated that the charity states that a small, but significant, number of veterans are fighting with these hidden psychological wound and if they do not seek help, it will worsen and be more difficult to treat.

It has been found that the number of Iraq veterans has increased by almost 20%, even though combat operations ended five years ago for British troops, with a complete pullout during 2011.

Combat Stress said it had one referral during the first year of conflict during 2003, and two referrals the year after that. However, with tens of thousands being deployed over the past ten years, these numbers have increased greatly, particularly during the past three years.

The charity estimates that around 42000 troops who were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan may develop mental health problems over the next few decades.

The organisation has treated 1300 Afghanistan veterans and there are 662 receiving care. It has treated 1968 Iraq veterans and treating 806.

The Chief of the General Staff during the time period when British forces were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, General Sir Richard Dannatt, has said regardless of which war troops were fighting, there would always be psychiatric casualties – the same way as ‘shell shock’ was experienced during the first World War. He said that the British operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will cause an increase in these casualties, but no one really knows how many.

He said that the Ministry of Defence will always try to lower this figure for compensation and budgetary reasons, but the injuries should be recognised and discussed.

He stated that former soldiers are often trying to cope alone and that society should recognise that many of these veterans end up as murderers in jail or commit suicide.

Several campaigns have been launched by the Ministry of Defence to try and eliminate the stigma attached to mental health conditions. It has offered funding to Combat Stress and is hiring more community psychiatric nurses to aid in the community outreach teams.

Image Credit: Russell Trow

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