Leigh Skelton: We have a duty of care to look after our soldiers

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The Independent Online

The death of this soldier is very sad news, a terrible waste of a life. But I'm afraid he will not be the last one to take such a course of action in these circumstances.

Our servicemen and women are under tremendous pressure. They are overstretched and undergoing often highly traumatic experiences in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The support provided by the state for these people is nothing like enough. The Defence Psychiatry Service has faced severe cutbacks in recent yearsand all the psychiatric hospitals have gone. The Ministry of Defence is now contracting its in-patient care to the Priory Clinic. I am not sure how much servicemen and women fresh from combat duties in Iraq and Afghanistan will have in common with troubled showbiz personalities.

Our referrals have gone up from 600 to 936 in less than a year and this is rising. An increasing number of them are young people and a lot have returned from service in Iraq - more than 100 within the past year.

According to some studies, it can take up to 12 years for soldiers to understand they are suffering from stress and seek help. We have got veterans from the Second World War and Korea coming to us. The fact that we are now getting people from recent combat zones is a good thing, but it also shows the scale of the problem.

Young people in the services are particularly vulnerable. Very often they do not know where to go to for help. As well as stress and trauma they may experience in combat situations they can also be subjected to bullying.

One does not actually have to be in combat to suffer from stress. The expectation of what one may face, the tales that are brought back by soldiers can prey on one's mind. This especially could be the case among the young.

People in the services will experience things which most civilians will not. As a result they need additional care. In particular difficulties are members of the Territorial Army. Unlike the regular services they have to depend on the NHS, which is not geared up to cope with such cases.

We ask our service people to do an awful lot for this country. We have a duty to look after them in return.

Leigh Skelton is director of clinical services at Combat Stress, the ex-services mental welfare charity.