Daily Mirror, January 24, 2011
Ten troops a day suffer mental health problems in fight against Taliban
From October 2009 to September last year, 3,970 Armed Forces staff were diagnosed with a mental disorder
by Chris Hughes
MoD figures show the number of troops with mental health issues was last year up 28% on the year before while those with PTSD had risen by a shocking 72%. (Photo: Photo illustration by Jennifer Clampet / USAG Wiesbaden Public Affairs)
THE war on terror is taking its toll on the mental state of British troops with a dramatic rise in the number seeking psychiatric help.
Worrying new figures have revealed 10 a day are now being treated for psychological problems as a result of the bitter fight with the Taliban.
The daily threat of roadside bombs, fierce gun battles and seeing comrades killed or horrifically maimed in the blood and dust of Afghanistan has led to a steep increase in the number of personnel suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.
But experts claim many troops hit by mental illness do not present with any symptoms until many years after the incidents that triggered the problems.
A report for the Government by former navy doctor and Tory MP Andrew Murrison calls for serving personnel to be screened for signs of psychiatric disorders in a bid to prevent chronic illness later.
MoD figures show the number of troops with mental health issues was last year up 28% on the year before while those with PTSD had risen by a shocking 72%. Military charity SSAFA Forces Help said: “It is not surprising the intense nature of current and recent operations is resulting in an increase in mental health issues amongst those who have deployed.
“SSAFA Forces Help welcomes the fact there are now far more comprehensive and robust mechanisms in place to detect these problems at an early stage.
“However, we should also be concerned that many veterans do not present with psychological injuries until many years after serving.”
Another charity, Combat Stress – which last year launched an appeal to raise £30million to address the issue – told of the “ever increasing caseload” of troops with mental problems. Spokesman Robert Marsh said: “The report underlines the importance of investing in high quality mental health services for veterans as well as serving personnel.”
From October 2009 to September last year, 3,970 Armed Forces staff were diagnosed with a mental disorder.
Of those, 235 suffered PTSD. Troops who do not get psychiatric help before quitting the services often end up homeless, suffer drug or alcohol abuse and even drift into crime.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said yesterday: “For too long, the mental health issues of our veterans have been ignored. Many simply haven’t been given the help they require or deserve.
“Given the sacrifices we have asked them to make, the least we can do is support them when they need it most.” The Government has pledged to act with millions of pounds being pumped into a new scheme to help troops suffering mental health problems.
A new NHS screening programme will identify victims of battlefield stress and GPs will get special training on dealing with sufferers of PTSD.
The job of spotting potential mental health issues in combat falls to sergeant majors. One such person is Stuart Potter.
The 34-year-old told how he encourages his 160-strong company of troops in Afghanistan to talk through problems.
Sgt Maj Potter said: “No matter who you are, the realisation that you are in someone’s sights, that someone wants to kill you, is traumatic.
“For years there has been a stigma attached to feeling shame or upset at mental issues. When I first joined, some said it was a sign of weakness.
“But now I encourage soldiers to discuss their feelings, with mates, commanders and with me. As soldiers we understand what other soldiers are going through.”
Mental illness numbers were “significantly higher” among membersof the Army and RAF, female troops, and Afghanistan veterans.
But some officials claim the figures were skewed by changes to the way they were compiled, with repeat attendances now recorded as new cases.
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