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Mental Health

Don't bottle it up: How to cope with PTSD and mental health issues

The ‘stiff upper lip’ approach previously associated with the Armed Forces is being replaced by people willing to seek the help they need

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Keeping an eye on your own mental health can be a lifesaver. 

Unchecked, our minds can take us hostage and cause unimaginable damage to ourselves and those we love. 

How can we help ourselves cope when the stigma attached to talking openly about our mental health is still high, especially in the Armed Forces.

Research shows that after leaving the Armed Forces, it can take a veteran up to 13 years to ask for help. 

Military charities report that they are twice as busy as they were 10 years ago. The UK’s leading charity for veteran’s mental health, Combat Stress says that out of more than 12,000 calls to their 24-hour helpline last year, 7,500 were new callers. 

Veterans from Operations Telic and Herrick are seeking help much earlier. It takes, on average, six years for Iraq veterans to ask for help and four years for Afghanistan veterans. 

Op Herrick Afghanistan Paratrooper 3 PARA Returns Fire Enemy Defence Imagery MOD

Whether a civilian or in the Armed Forces, one in four people will experience mental health problems. 

Mental health is an umbrella term covering many different psychological conditions. 

  • Anxiety & panic attacks 
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Depression 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder 
  • Personality disorders 
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 
  • Psychosis 
  • Schizophrenia 
  • Self-harm 
  • Suicidal feelings 
Soldier A Company 1 RIFLES Merlin helicopter Operation Omid Haft Helmand Province Afghanistan 28.05.11 Credit Defence Imagery

His Royal Highness Prince Harry has described the mental scars of battle as 'the invisible wounds of war'. In terms of mental health treatment, the term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is more commonly used.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by a traumatic event. Those who suffer from PTSD often experience flashbacks, reliving the nightmare over and over again.

Some people diagnosed with PTSD can suffer bouts of violence, drunkenness and thoughts of suicide.

Military personnel, both serving and veterans, find therapy in a variety of surprising places. Gardening, archery, meditationwoodwork and extreme challenges like running a marathon in the North Pole.

Mental Health Awareness Depression Grief Credit: Defence Imagery

Most personnel have traditional first aid skills but special courses are also available that give them the tools they need for Mental Health First Aid. 

Someone suffering with their own mental health can have a domino effect on their own family. Without proper treatment, mental health problems can affect people's ability to care properly for their loved ones.

Mood swings and violent outbursts can make homes feel unsafe for loved ones. 

The ‘stiff upper lip’ approach previously associated with the Armed Forces is rapidly being replaced by people being willing to seek the help they need or spotting the signs of distress in colleagues. 

In recent years, there has been a strong push online to encourage people to break down barriers between family and friends. 

Sometimes, people automatically say they're fine when they're not. It’s a pre-programmed response many people are not even aware of. 

Growing social movement 'Time To Change' has been trying to put an end to mental health discrimination by promoting the line, “if your mate's acting differently, ask twice” on social media.

They suggest responding to "yeah, I'm fine" with “are you sure?” or “cool, you know where I am if you need me.”

Time To Talk Day Ask Twice Mental Health Credit: Time To Change

How do you know which type of professional help you need? Signs that you might need to ask for help include: 

  • Life feeling intense and unmanageable 
  • You can't stop thinking about a traumatic event 
  • You feel run down and are using drugs or alcohol to appear normal 
  • Family and friends say you’re different and they’re worried 
  • Things you once felt passionately about hold no interest anymore 

Mental health advisers suggest no one waits for things to ‘get better’ or ignore the signs because “everyone feels like this now and again, right?”.

If anyone feels like they need help, they are not alone. 

According to the Mental Health Foundation's publication Fundamental Facts About Mental Health, “one in six adults experiences symptoms of a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, and one in five adults has considered taking their own life at some point.” 

Mental Health Pilot Hawk T1 Jet Royal Air Force RAF Valley Anglesey Defence Imagery

Veterans Gateway is a service aiming to make it easier for veterans to get the crucial help they need from military charities. 

The Armed Forces Covenant funds a 24/7 helpline service. Veterans can chat live online, call or text the helpline and get the right referral. 

Official advice from the MOD for serving personnel is as follows: 

“If someone thinks they have a mental health condition or just wants someone to speak to, they can ask for help from any medical officer or their chain of command. 

“All units are supported by non-medical personal that are able to signpost to the relevant service.” 

Once you have reached out for help with your mental health, can you take leave from work? 

The short answer is yes and it’s important to understand why.

According to Public Health England, in the UK, “131 million working days are lost to sickness every year.”

Some 14.3 million of those days are down to mental health problems such as stress, depression or anxiety. Health professionals suggest that the sooner mental health problems are tackled head-on and people are given time to focus on themselves, the better for everyone involved.