By Rhicha Kapila, military claims specialist at Bolt Burdon Kemp.
The young Royals have made it their mission to shine a brighter spotlight on mental health issues and this week the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, along with Prince Harry, have announced a new initiative with the Ministry of Defence to tackle mental health in the armed forces.
This new scheme will aim to put as much focus on mental health issues as physical health.
New specialist training and support will be offered and it will be integrated into staff training courses and briefings from the middle of next year.
It is expected the defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon will say, to coincide with World Mental Health Day, “By looking after our mental health we are building a more effective armed forces that help keep this country safe.”
This new initiative should be welcomed with open arms.
For too long our armed forces have been blighted by poor mental health support and the culture for our servicemen and women is all-too-often one of silence – mental health issues are rarely spoken about.
Attitudes are improving, but we still hear about misguided, unsympathetic or unobservant commanders telling sufferers to “have a pint and get over it” instead of referring them to their Medical Officer.
Issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and anger regularly affect our troops.
The charity Combat Stress saw a 71% increase in referrals in the last five years related to mental health issues, for example.
Without encouraging service men and women to speak about mental health, and providing better training for staff to recognise signs and symptoms, it can be very difficult to recognise mental health issues as the symptoms vary from person to person.
That’s why this latest announcement is so positive.
Some things that can be spotted are difficulty sleeping, a change in behaviour/personality, aggression or disciplinary problems and individuals can also look to self-medicate - through drugs and alcohol.
Mental health problems have brought many promising military careers to an unhappy end.
We have also seen cases where the transition to civilian life has been so badly managed that real hardship such as homelessness can result. Correct and timely treatment is, therefore, essential.
The MoD has a duty of care to avoid causing injury to service personnel, including causing harm to their mental health caused by stress at work – any more support which can be offered will be helpful, and in some cases, life-saving.
Rhicha is head of the firm’s Military department and a partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp.