Confronting mental illness in the military

Confronting mental illness in the military

7th February 2014

Efforts to raise awareness of mental illness were increased yesterday as the inauguralTime to Talk Day was held, part of the Time to Change campaign.

It’s a joint venture between the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, aiming to encourage people to discuss mental health and reduce stigma.

Growing evidence shows that mental health conditions are underreported in the military due to the stigma attached.  Although mental ill-health is very common, and broadly at the same rate whether in the military or not – it is estimated that at least one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem at some point in their life, and one in six adults has a mental health problem at any one time – stigma acts as a barrier to seeking help.

The CSJ has found this in its previous work, and one study in 2010, the Murrison Report into military mental health, found high levels of stigmatisation exists in the Armed Forces.

Mental ill-health still occurs in the Armed Forces.  In March 2013 the Ministry of Defence released statistics showing that since 2007 up to 11,000 serving members of the military have been diagnosed with mental health conditions.

Figures from the MOD show that in 2012:

  • 2,550 soldiers, sailors, aircrew and marines were treated for mental health issues whilst in uniform;
  • 11 per cent of these were reports of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and 21 per cent of cases related to mood disorders such as depression;
  • A total of 3,425 days were lost due to days spent in hospital.

Research into stigma last year found that reluctance in reporting a mental health problem due to a fear of being treated differently by a commanding officer during a deployment fell by 12.2 per cent between 2008 and 2011. There was also a 14.1 per cent fall in those deployed personnel who considered reporting a mental health issue to be embarrassing.

These findings demonstrate that stigma is falling.  But although modest gains have been made by the UK Armed Forces’ anti-stigma campaigns, such as Don’t bottle it up, more work needs to be done.

The need to remove stigma as a barrier to seeking help is clear. Studies in 2007 have shown that service men and women with mental health issues not only remain unwell in the long-term, but are also more likely to be unemployed after discharge, often negatively impacting on family relationships and children.

By supporting our service men and women whilst in uniform and giving them the skills to cope and overcome mental ill health, they will be in a much better position to thrive once they have transitioned to civilian life.