Captain Becky Collins is a rather unique woman in the world of mental health.
The British Army officer is the only clinical psychologist in the military and proud of the work she does to look after the mental health of service personnel. She said:
“It is very rare. I’m the only clinical psychologist in green and surprisingly I’m the only psychologist in the military.”
On October 10, Becky will join millions of people around the globe to mark World Mental Health Day – 24 hours to reflect on your own wellbeing and promote listening to yourself and others. But for therapists like Becky, every day is world mental health day. She said:
“Every day we’re providing that care for people with mental health needs, but I think it’s really fantastic because it gives the public a day to mark the importance of mental health and seeking help.”
Becky considers herself to be psychologist first and soldier second because her focus is the military people who are under her care. Her primary aim is to ensure they are safe and fit for operations.
However, Becky did not grow up wanting to be a soldier. She dreamt of a different career path. She said:
“I wanted to be a psychologist since I was about 17-years-old so that was the focus for a long time, and it took about ten years to finally become qualified.”
Psychology is the study of the brain and its behaviour. Clinical psychologists use those skills and scientific evidence to help patients with mental health problems understand where their problems started, how they are being maintained and to come up with a solution to move forward.
They have the knowledge to choose which method of therapy would suit each patient best. For example, some patients might benefit most from a more conversational type of therapy like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) while others might find better results from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which is based on Buddhist principles.
Eventually, Becky was drawn towards the military as a platform for her special skills because of a family connection. She said:
“My brother’s in the military, he’s in the Army.
“I guess I saw for him the opportunities and not just things like travel but also courses to develop yourself and opportunities to deploy, be on exercise.”
The therapist was excited by the prospect and was given the opportunity to do a placement in the MOD as part of her clinical psychologist training.
Becky was also keen to join the military because of the deep respect she feels for people who join the armed forces. She thinks joining the military is fantastic, but it also comes with a lot of instability. She said:
“You need a high level of resilience and you can be working in really stressful environments.
“For me, I think that respect and compassion motivated me to join.”
Many of the soldiers Becky treats find it easier to relate to her because when she speaks to them she is also wearing a uniform. She said:
“I think I’ve definitely got a better understanding of the lingo. Some of the words soldiers and officers might use you can understand a bit more when you’re in the military.”
Mental Health Fitness Since COVID-19
Becky works at the Department Of Community Mental Health (DCMH) in Colchester Garrison and, alongside her colleagues, has one main aim which is:
“To promote the well-being and recovery of those individuals in all respects of their occupational role and to maintain the fighting effectiveness of the Armed Services.”
However, the Coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a lot of change and uncertainty which can add an additional layer of stress and anxiety to everyone's daily lives. The difficulties DCMH have encountered are not that different to that of NHS mental health services. She said:
“The main aim during lockdown is to keep the staff and the patients safe and reduce the transmission rate but we adapted.
“Quite quickly we had a web-based platform where we could then provide our therapies via the web, but we were also able to offer face to face contact for people that really needed it.”
Reacting to the increased need so quickly via video calling platforms meant the care people needed did not disappear during lockdown. However, Becky is looking into whether the issues people are now dealing with are because of how they are reacting to the pandemic and therefore whether they need to adjust how they are treated. She said:
“We are researching and evaluating the people who are accessing DCMH and whether or not their difficulties are related to COVID.
“At the moment I can’t give a solid answer because we’re still collecting the data but as soon as we get that understanding hopefully it can inform how people have been affected and also how we can again adapt our service to suit those people’s needs.”
If you feel as though you might need some help with your own mental health, there are many avenues of support for service personnel:
- Your Padre
- The Welfare Officer for your unit
- The Army Welfare Service
- Your Medical Officer or GP