Sky News Online, January 28, 2010

Suicide Risk Rises For Young War Veterans

"You see your friends lose limbs or die and of course you come back different - no-one can be prepared for conflict or war and sometimes the post-traumatic stress will not come out until maybe nine years later."

By Lulu Sinclair

Young soldiers returning from Afghanistan are up to three times more likely to kill themselves than civilians of the same age, according to the Mental Health Foundation.

Suicide, crime and alcohol problems are of particular risk to the under 24s ( ), the charity says, and more needs to be done to look after the mental health of troops who have served in wars.

Suicides in the US Army rose to a new record in 2009, with 160 soldiers taking their lives, the military said Friday, calling it a "painful year."
Army leaders had warned that the suicide rate was on track to surpass last year's toll of 140, but said the causes of the spike remain unclear.
"There's no question that 2009 was a painful year for the army when it came to suicides," said Colonel Christopher Philbrick, deputy director of an army suicide prevention task force.
AFP, Jan. 15, 2010

The Mental Health Foundation ( ) believes that, while money matters, it is important to raise awareness of what help people need.

"Support for veterans' mental health needs to be more comprehensive and widespread than it is at the moment," said the foundation's Simon Lawton-Smith.

"In some parts of the country there are mental health pilot sites being run by health services in partnership with the military, but many veterans outside these areas struggle to get the support they need.

Mr Lawton-Smith believes the Forces should get involved, not just the Government.

"While veterans' health care is the responsibility of the NHS, the military does have a role in making sure that people leaving the forces make a successful transition back to civilian life.

"At the moment the full resettlement package for veterans is only available to those who've been in the forces for six years or more. We feel this really needs to be looked at should be about need, not just length of service."

One veteran who agrees the subject is not given enough prominence is photographer Stuart Griffiths ( ), who was himself homeless at one stage after he left the Army in 1993.

"There has always been a problem with mental health issues for the Armed Forces because it is seen as a bit of a stigma," he told Sky News Online.

"The regular trained soldier will not go and get treament. They feel that they can self- medicate, although everyone else knows that you can't address the problem that way."

Mr Griffiths served two terms in Afghanistan in the Parachute Regiment and says many young men are not - and cannot be - prepared for the reality of war.

"They're adrenalin-filled, trained to fight and keen to do so - that's the whole point after all.

"But then they go out there and see what it's all about - there's a lot of boredom in the waiting around and, later, there's the trauma of what you're involved with.

"You see your friends lose limbs or die and of course you come back different - no-one can be prepared for conflict or war and sometimes the post-traumatic stress will not come out until maybe nine years later."

Mr Griffiths say many people who leave the Army are not equipped to cope with life in civvy street - he believes his interest in photography was what helped him.

"A lot of people who join the Army come from dysfunctional families in the first place so there's no-one really there to help when they come out and, even outside the family, few people understand the soldiers' problems.

"For example, someone I know was shot in the head and came back later for treatment through the NHS.

"The first thing a medic said to him was: 'So what's it like being shot in the head?' They just had no idea how to deal with this injured man."

"It would be good to get more hostels for ex-forces members, people who understand the circumstances of the people they're helping.

"I stayed in the New Belvedere House in east London and that turned me around. What we need now is for the Forces to prepare people for life outside with workshops and talks - just to help them understand what is going on.

"It's no good pretending that there's the Army and nothing else - one a soldier leaves the "family security" of the Armed Forces, they're on their own - and they need help."

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