Army veterans and mental health issues – they all deserve our support

 
The front page of today’s Times reads – Military charities accused of inflating combat stress problem.  The story goes on to say that military charities are exaggerating the problem of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans to raise funds.  Ed Parker, chief executive of Walking with the Wounded, which is supported by Prince Harry, is quoted as saying that PTSD is being used to inspire donations because charities can no longer rely on images of soldiers suffering physical injuries on the front line. 
 
There is great confusion over mental health in the armed forces.
 
PTSD is a complex and debilitating condition that can affect every aspect of a person’s life. It has been known to exist since ancient times, albeit under the guise of different names.
 
During the First World War it was referred to as “shell shock”; as “war neurosis” during WWII; and as “combat stress reaction” during the Vietnam War.  In the 1980s the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was introduced – the term we still use today.
 
PTSD is essentially a memory filing error. It can happen when people are exposed to an extraordinary life-threatening situation which is perceived with intense fear, horror and helplessness.  These are injuries we cannot see but they are there and they are very real.  
 
Sometimes PTSD can be like a ticking time bomb and may not develop until years after the event and many people may not report or even recognise the symptoms they are suffering from as trauma or Service-related.  An individual may suffer for years in silence before finally trying to get treatment.  Often the death of a spouse, loss of a job, or anniversaries such as Remembrance Day can be the final straw that leads the Veteran to ask for help.
 
The public support for the armed forces is huge but it is recognised that once we return from war public donations slow down and charities begin to struggle to cope.
 
The service charities should be applauded for raising awareness of this but don’t be confused between PTSD and the very real growing mental health conditions in the military which might affect Service and ex-Service personnel.  These include depression, feelings of anxiety and panic attacks.  What is beyond doubt is that all army veterans need – and deserve – our support.
 
Hilary Meredith