Mental Health

How The Army Trains Soldiers In 'Mental Resilience'

The service is putting increasing focus on developing the minds of troops, as well as physical training.

The British Army has for several years been trying to "train the mind" of recruits as part of mental resilience exercises.

In addition to getting soldiers ready for the physical side of the military, the service is also trying to build "mental robustness" of personnel as well.

All Arms Physical Training Instructor Corporal Luke Trim said: "We try and obviously train the physical side of being an Infanteer in Battle PT [Physical Training] so being robust, lifts, carries, drags, but we’re also trying to train the mind and their mental robustness as well.

"We can’t replicate the stress you get on the battlefield, however, we can do little things like we give them timings that are probably not that achievable, shouting and screaming, making them physically exhausted and getting them to do menial tasks," he added.

"We don’t tell them what’s going to happen within the session, so we always keep them guessing."

The mental resilience training, as with all training, is under constant review.

Training outdoors is combined with theory classes which explain how the human mind works and the different ways to cope with certain stresses.

"Back in the day it was just training you physically more so, obviously there was a bit of mental resilience training but within a PT lesson – it wasn’t a formal sit down," says Cpl Trim.

Warrant Officer Class 2 Austin Lindsay is the lead mental resilience training coach for the British Army and has been involved since the training was first introduced back in 2013 at Catterick's Infantry Training Centre.

The training involves tough time limits, shouting and screaming, and physical exhaustion.

It is now given throughout a soldier's career, although the training has changed slightly since it was first conceived.

Whereas it used to focus on an individual's resilience, it now considers the team element and what impact this has on the resilience of each soldier in the group. 

Much of the process involves mental rehearsal - soldiers raiding a building, for example, will go over the procedure in their minds prior to entering.

How does the training compare to other countries’ militaries?

"Different armies across the world are maybe a little bit more advanced but maybe not so in different ways," said WO Lindsay.

"For example, the Australian army has a full corps of clinical psychologists – but what they don’t have is the resilience piece to go with that.

"We have advanced forward on the resilience piece and proved that this works – this training improves performance.

"I would say we are pretty much up there. We learn, we take from them, they take from us – so we share a lot of information."

Nowadays, mentally stressful training is being combined with theory classes.

Cpl Trim is also a firm believer in the mental resilience training on offer: "I’ve seen from like day one, week one recruits they had the mental robustness of… a wet paper towel, but at the end they are infanteers and they’ll go to battalion and they’ll do the job that is required," he said.

"They built that mental robustness over time in their six months here."

"I think we are definitely moving forward," WO Lindsay added.

"We’ve created OP Smart – the optimising performance through stress management and resilience training.

"We’ve got the mental resilience training under that and we’ve got the Army mental health awareness training and that’s been rolled out throughout the whole of the Army.

"So we’ve got teams out there delivering all this information, this training, these skills in order to improve everybody’s mental health, mental fitness.

"I don’t believe there’s probably too much more that we could do because we’re actually, we’re fully focused.

"I think we’re in a really good place."