Today marks Armed Forces Day.
Particularly today, it is a good time as any to address the importance of good mental health of those in the military. Mental health is something I have been very close to since my early years where I battled a rather bad case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I began life in the Army in 2001 and then fought in Afghanistan in 2006, 2008-09 and 2010 – at the height of the war-fighting in that conflict. Talking therapy has played a pivotal role in my life in being able to overcome OCD to the point of being able to live a normal life, and dealing with multiple traumatic experiences in Afghanistan.
It’s not a surprise that being in the Army (or indeed afterwards) affects many people’s mental state. The latest numbers and rates of mental disorder among UK Armed Forces personnel assessed at Ministry of Defence Specialist Mental Health services increased from 1.8% in 2007/08 to 3.2 % in 2016/17 – still well below the equivalent cohort in wider-society, but significant nonetheless. The military has come a long way in addressing mental illness. When we started in the early years of Afghanistan, the UK military were caught out by the scale of the fighting and from that inevitably the medical and rehabilitation wings within the military had to catch up. Sometimes this concerned physical injuries; sometimes it was poor mental health. Trauma Risk Management was soon introduced but it wasn’t taken particularly seriously in the units I served within the early years of it – it got much better.
Nowadays the military have shifted to focus on what it means to be healthy, what it means to have resilience to deal with traumatic situations – and therein lies the key going forward, mental resilience and how to maintain good mental health.