A battlefield near Kherson showing signs of Russian defeat (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo).
A battlefield near Kherson, Ukraine, showing signs of Russian defeat (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo).
Mental Health

Ukraine war coverage adds to decline in veterans' mental health, Help for Heroes survey suggests

A battlefield near Kherson showing signs of Russian defeat (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo).
A battlefield near Kherson, Ukraine, showing signs of Russian defeat (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo).

Coverage of the war in Ukraine is adding to a dip in veterans' mental health over the past 12 months, a new survey from Help For Heroes suggests.

The cost-of-living crisis and loneliness are also driving the reported decline, according to the charity's Veterans and Families Survey.

The survey was completed over an 18-day period in August and September last year by 810 veterans who self-declared physical or mental health conditions expected to last longer than 12 months.

Of those, 85% reported struggling with their mental health daily, compared with 73% in a 2021 survey.

The charity says 51% said news coverage of recent conflicts in Ukraine and Afghanistan had taken a toll on their mental health.

This has caused many to experience anger, depression, low mood and sleep disruption.

News of these conflicts has prompted feelings of guilt or shame for 35% of respondents and 10% reported misusing alcohol or substances as a result.

One in eight respondents had used a food bank in the last 12 months with 82% worried about the cost of living.

Of those surveyed, 82% reported experiencing feelings of loneliness and 32% said they are often or always lonely.

The latter rises to 54% for those living alone, the charity states.

RAF Veteran Michelle Hopkins in Iraq (Picture: Help For Heroes).
RAF veteran Michelle Hopkins (Picture: Help For Heroes).

Help for Heroes says veterans, serving personnel and their families can access an Immediate Needs grant to help with energy bills and food costs.

Since April, 254 people have benefited from the funding.

The charity's Hidden Wounds service has boosted its number of clinicians to meet the demand for mental health support.

Community outreach teams are working with local food banks.

The charity has also run financial wellbeing courses to help members of the Armed Forces community tools to help them manage their finances amid the cost-of-living crisis.

RAF veteran Michelle Hopkins, 50, from Wickford in Essex, who suffers from Chronic Fatigue and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, has saved hundreds of pounds since taking the financial wellbeing course, Help For Heroes said.

The Flight Operations Officer served in the RAF for 16 years and was deployed to the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan.

She said: "Everything is more expensive now we're in a cost-of-living crisis and now I've completed the finance course I feel like I've got a grip on what I have coming in and going out; it's a good feeling to know I am in control."

The charity's interim chief executive James Needham said: "For those veterans living with long-term health conditions, it's not surprising recent external factors outside of their control have resulted in a worsening of mental health."

It has seen a 28% increase in referrals for grant funding support, up from 389 to 498, in the last year to September compared to the previous year.

There has been an 8% increase in overall referrals, up from 2,438 to 2,623, to end of September 2022 compared to the previous year.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "We encourage any veteran who may be struggling to come forward and seek support.

"Veterans in England can access specialist support through NHS England's dedicated veterans mental health and wellbeing service, Op Courage."