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Mental health for veterans

NHS treatment for service-related mental health problems

Research indicates that armed forces personnel serving in Iraq or Afghanistan are no more prone to mental health issues than personnel not deployed to these areas.

But it's completely normal to experience anxiety or depression after traumatic events. This can be tough for veterans to deal with, and the culture of the armed forces can make seeking help for a mental health problem appear difficult.

Some people may not experience some of these symptoms until a few years after leaving the armed forces, or they may put off seeking help.

Read more about the symptoms of depression and mental health, and their treatment.

NHS support and treatment

The NHS provides dedicated mental health services across England that offer a range of treatments and support for veterans and those soon to be discharged from the armed forces.

This includes recognising the early signs of mental health problems and providing access to early treatment and support, as well as therapeutic treatment for complex mental health difficulties and psychological trauma.

These services work closely with a range of organisations to provide a complete package of care to help patients enjoy a healthy life.

As part of this, patients will receive help with employment, reduction in alcohol consumption, and housing and social support, where appropriate.

Veterans accessing the services must:

  • be a resident in England
  • have served in the UK armed forces for a full day 
  • be registered with a GP practice in England or be willing to register with a GP 
  • be able to provide their military service number or another form of acceptable proof of eligibility

People meeting these criteria can self-refer, or request referral via a healthcare professional or a service charity.

Upon receipt of referral, patients will be offered an initial face-to-face assessment within two weeks and a first clinical appointment two weeks after that time. Contact your local veterans' mental health services (PDF, 129kb).

There are also many charities that provide great services, advice and support for veterans, reservists and family members. Similar services exist in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Further details can be found in our contacts section

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

A small number of individuals suffering with mental health issues may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Long-term clinical research indicates that the likelihood of experiencing PTSD is similar to that of the general public, although the cases are likely to be different.

Symptoms can include:

  • being constantly anxious
  • being unable to relax
  • vividly re-experiencing a traumatic event
  • avoiding anything that might trigger distressing memories or feelings

PTSD can lead to problems in relationships and at work, including irritability, anger and substance misuse – particularly alcohol.

While some symptoms, such as nightmares, are normal in the weeks following a traumatic event, symptoms that last longer than this can indicate a problem.

Should this happen to you, it's important to seek the advice of your GP as soon as possible.

If you haven't already done so, register with a GP, tell them you've served and are a veteran, and bring to their attention any health problems relating to your time in the armed forces.

National support services

Combat Stress
Combat Stress offers a range of services for veterans of the Royal Navy, Army, Royal Air Force and Merchant Navy, including:

  • a 24-hour helpline for veterans, their families, and serving men and women that can advise on mental health problems and how to get help – call 0800 138 1619, text 07537 404 719 or email helpline@combatstress.org.uk
  • community support – giving veterans access to specialist help and support for their mental health conditions through community clinics
  • intensive residential treatment – to help veterans recover from mental health issues such as PTSD, depression and anxiety

Big White Wall 
The Big White Wall provides safe, anonymous, round-the-clock online support, with trained counsellors available at all times. There's a supportive community and lots of resources that all armed forces personnel, veterans and their families can use at any time. 

Veterans UK
The 24-hour mental health helpline (0808 1914 218) can be accessed by veterans and their families, if help is needed.

Help for Heroes Hidden Wounds
Help for Heroes Hidden Wounds provides confidential support delivered by psychological wellbeing practitioners, often over the phone or Skype, so you can easily access support from all round the country. 

Veterans' Information Service 
The Veterans' Information Service is provided in partnership with Veterans UK, which helps ex-service personnel get appropriate support from government, local authorities, independent bodies and the charity sector.

Since October 2010, personnel being discharged from the armed forces have received an e-mail or letter from Veterans UK a year after leaving, signposting health and other services that may be of use to veterans. If you left the armed forces in the past year or so, expect to receive an email or letter soon.

The Royal British Legion
The Royal British Legion Knowledge Base has details of services and sources of support at a local and national level for the armed forces community.

You may find there are other veteran-focused mental health services provided in your area.

Page last reviewed: 31/07/2017

Next review due: 31/07/2020