Homeless Veterans campaign: Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'

Veterans could encounter a 'bewildering' range of charities, NHS and social care organisations, says professor

Charlie Cooper
Monday 15 December 2014 23:00
Comments

The UK should introduce a “quality mark” for services offering mental health support for veterans, one of the country’s leading experts on military health has said.

Professor Sir Simon Wessely, who heads the country’s main military health research unit at King’s College London, said veterans could encounter a “bewildering” range of charities, NHS and social care organisations and that it was crucial they knew which could offer an effective service.

Describing the veterans’ mental health “arena” as “a mess”, Professor Wessely said that good services would have to meet a range of criteria and show that they were “veteran-informed” – providing mental health assessments carried out by professionals who understood the issues that can affect former military personnel.

He said that while the vast majority of veterans do not suffer any kind of mental illness, those who do often experience a complex set of problems that lead to them falling between the cracks of various NHS and social services.

“I don’t necessarily think you need veteran-specific services,” he said. “But I do think people in the business of treating veterans for service-related problems need to have the ability to do a good assessment. You need people who know the background, who know how to talk to veterans, who veterans trust.”

Contrary to popular belief, rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans who have been deployed is around 4 per cent – almost the same as in the general population. However, the rate rises to 7 per cent among those who have seen combat.

A recent survey carried out by the Royal British Legion also found that 10 per cent of working-age veterans suffer from depression, compared with 6 per cent in the civilian population.

Professor Wessely, who is also president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, investigated Gulf War Syndrome in the 1990s and later set up the King’s Centre for Military Health Research. It continues to investigate the health of UK Armed Forces personnel today.

“The impact on families is not from deployment but when the parent comes back with problems,” he said. “Military families adapt very well to military life. What they don’t adapt to is when the father comes back and is drinking, or has PTSD. Poor mental health has a very poor impact on families and children.”

Stigma around mental illness still prevents many from seeking help and the public should be careful not to stereotype veterans as either “heroes” or “victims”, he added.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in