“He seemed alright to me.”
A sentence that is both passive and flippant in the context of mental health. It’s easy to see someone’s actions as “attention seeking” or “being an unruly ASBO” but are there deeper-rooted issues?
When I first joined the armed forces, PTSD was the hot subject and we were told about the tell-tale signs to look out for in a very well put together PowerPoint with pictures of grown men with their heads in their hands.
This was my only exposure to mental health and in my slight innocence and youth, I thought I would never be weak enough to see any effects of mental health.
Fast forward 12 years: Off the top of my head I can name five close friends or family who have been clinically diagnosed with some sort of mental health issue, numerous friends and family who have shown traits of quietly suffering, and unfortunately friends who have taken their own lives.
So why the comparison?
In the past 12 years, mental health awareness has increased for the good. I believe that more people are well informed of the signs and symptoms and the support from the NHS and charities has increased.
What I believe hasn’t changed is the culture of discussing or identifying issues, particularly in men and women in the military.
As I sit here and type this, I question myself, “Would I go and tell a work mate that I’m struggling with depression or any PTSD?”
Not a chance!
If you flip the roles, would you go and speak to a mate who was showing signs and symptoms of depression or would you think “he seems alright to me?"
The issue with the military is that our lives are dictated and driven by something that is much bigger than ourselves.
We have very little time or freedom to express ourselves. Furthermore, we are introduced to a culture where we are told we are the best: “Be the Best, 99% need not apply."
So, in an environment where everything has traditionally pointed towards being the best, is there any space for someone who has mental health issues whilst working in a force that is trained to engage with the enemy?
How about we look past our ego and instead of drowning out our perception of weak, we put our arm around our mate and ask, “how are you doing?"
I’m not suggesting that we forget our battle-ready attitude but instead look to help our mates if they are showing signs that they are struggling.
I’m no clinical psychologist so I can’t name the hundreds of tell-tale signs that someone may be struggling with mental health (there are plenty of fantastic websites out there that can offer more information). However, you know when your friend/work mate is acting unusually - so reach out to them.
I’m sure even having a conversation about everything but their problems can help.
If they are isolating themselves, go and join them for a brew/wet.
If they are continuously looking to scrap whilst out on the drink, suggest doing something other than drinking and suggest speaking to a professional.
If their work ethic has dropped, offer to help out with a task and strike up a conversation and so on ...
People go through their lives in this modern day and don’t always consider their surroundings. In the military we nearly always work in teams, so if a member of a team isn’t functioning normally then the whole team will be affected.
Don’t let your mate suffer alone and neither should you. Speak out
A helpline to provide round-the-clock support to forces personnel dealing with mental health issues has been launched after funding by the Ministry of Defence.
Anyone who needs help, advice or support with mental health issues can call the Military Mental Health Helpline on 0800 323 4444.