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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.

However, it is 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 for 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, in our mental health section.

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 due 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 be provided with help, where appropriate, with employment, reduction in alcohol consumption, housing and social support.

For veterans accessing the services, they 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 the criteria can self-refer or request referral via a health care professional or 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.

If you are a member of the armed forces approaching discharge, you may find this information on accessing these services useful.

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

Further details can be found in our contacts section

Post-traumatic stress disorder

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, though 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 have not already done so, register with a GP, tell them you have 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 the Merchant Service, including:

  • intensive in-patient treatment delivered at Combat Stress treatment centres – a six-week PTSD intensive treatment programme for veterans
  • moderate in-patient treatment – two-week treatments focusing on specific areas, such as anger management and alcohol
  • low-level in-patient interventions – one-week interventions delivered at Combat Stress treatment centres and Royal British Legion treatment centres

Combat Stress operates a 24-hour helpline for the military community and their families, which can advise on various issues, from mental health to practical support. The helpline can be reached on 0800 138 1619, by texting 07537 404 719, or emailing combat.stress@rethink.org.

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 veterans' mental health helpline (0808 1914 2 18) can be accessed by veterans, as well as 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 
Veterans' Information Service is provided in partnership with Veterans UK, who help ex-service personnel get appropriate support from government, local authorities, independent bodies and the charity sector.

Personnel discharging from the armed forces since October 2010 will receive 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 have left the armed forces in the past year or so, you should expect to receive an email or letter soon.

The Royal British Legion
The Royal British Legion Knowledge database 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: 24/06/2015

Next review due: 31/07/2017