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
There are many NHS treatments available to help people cope with the psychological impact of traumatic events, including trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
The NHS and other partners can deliver these services for anyone who needs them, including veterans. Recent data from the Department of Health (PDF, 397kb) shows that veterans are receiving the help they need quickly and effectively. There are also mental health services all across England specifically aimed at helping veterans:
If you live in Surrey, you may want to try Serves, a programme run by NHS First Steps Surrey that provides emotional support to veterans and reservists, including their families.
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.
Veterans and Reserves Mental Health Programme
Veterans who don't live near one of these places can access the Veterans and Reserves Mental Health Programme (VRMHP).
The VRMHP offers extensive mental health services to veterans and reservists at their closest Ministry of Defence (MOD) Department of Community Mental Health (DCMH).
Each DCMH is staffed by both military and civilian clinicians with military experience and knowledge who can offer free advice to ex-service personnel and current and former reservists, provided they meet the following criteria:
- Any ex-service personnel that have been in operational service since 1982 can access a mental health assessment through the VRMHP. This assessment will be made available to referrers, along with treatment suggestions and signposting to relevant agencies. Treatment for any diagnosed condition is the responsibility of local NHS mental health services, except for reservists.
- Reservists (serving or former members of the Royal Navy Reserve, Royal Marine Reserve, Territorial Army or Royal Auxiliary Air Force) who have served on operations since January 2003. Following an assessment, in the event of a diagnosable disorder deemed attributable to operational service, an individual may be referred to their local Department of Community Mental Health for treatment by Defence Mental Health clinicians.
The MOD can assist with travel costs for those attending the VRMHP from within the UK, but veterans should always confirm travel arrangements with the VRMHP before making a journey.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.