The Armed Forces and depression

Earlier this week a study carried out by researchers at King’s College London revealed that members of the UK Armed Forces are twice as likely to develop depression and anxiety than members of the general working population.

Unlike Dr Laura Goodwin who stated “the findings were not what we expected”, the results of the study sadly came as no surprise to me. Representing service personnel on a daily basis I am only too aware of the prevalence of mental health issues throughout the Armed Forces. The same can also be said of the Defence Select Committee who over recent years has taken a leading role in holding the Ministry of Defence to account over mental health through their detailed work on the Armed Forces Covenant in Action.

I was pleased to read that a Ministry of Defence spokesperson had commented on the study stating that the Ministry of Defence took the mental health and wellbeing of personnel very seriously. For a moment I (naively) considered that the Ministry of Defence may finally be addressing the issue of mental health within the military, knowing that the hotly anticipated Government Response to the Defence Committee’s 2014 report was due to be published.

That is until I had the displeasure of reading the Government Response to the Defence Committee’s report upon its publication today. Commendably the Defence Committee had raised several valid queries on the issue of mental health in their report dated 30th October 2014. Their questions included how the Ministry of Defence planned to deal with the increased volume of Armed Forces Personnel requiring treatment by mental health professionals, how they proposed to address the increased prominence of mental health problems within the Reservists, how they were addressing the impact of excessive drinking on mental health and how the Ministry of Defence would identify those at risk of violent offending behaviour upon their return from deployment.

Sadly the Government offered no substantive response to the questions posed by the Defence Committee stating the Ministry of Defence believes the systems implemented in recent years will mitigate the increase in presentations with mental health problems and allow them to offer help and assistance to those who need it. It was clear from the Government’s Response that far from accepting the findings of research carried out into mental health already (The Lancet 2010 study by Professor Wessely and Goodwin’s 2014 report to name only a few studies) the Ministry of Defence is still awaiting the results of further research commissioned prior to implementing any substantive policies or plans.

It is simply not good enough to tell us that the findings of further research and statistics will be reported in due course when service personnel are already facing these problems here and now and are not getting the support or treatment they are entitled to.

Hannah Ashcroft