The Ministry of Defence is often the enemy in the fight against mental health problems in our armed forces

The public perception that most Servicemen and women are damaged by their service is wrong, according to a Report by the House of Commons Defence Committee on the extent of mental illness among Armed Forces personnel.

The Report says that the vast majority of veterans leave with no mental damage, and suggestions to the contrary may actually discourage those who need help from seeking it. The Committee also believes that too much attention may be being placed on PTSD, whereas conditions such as depression are much more common.

The MoD has reported that some 3% of serving personnel were diagnosed with mental health problems last year – a significant increase over the previous decade, but still slightly lower than the level found within the general population. However, as the Department can record only those who seek help, its data probably underestimate the true figure. Academic research suggests that about 10% of veterans who served over the past 20 years may eventually develop mental health problems requiring treatment, with some groups – such as soldiers in combat roles, as well as Reservists – being at higher risk following deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Commenting on the report, Hilary Meredith, Chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ltd and Visiting Professor of Law and Veterans’ Affairs at the University of Chester said:

“Although I welcome this report and its recommendations, from my experience the Ministry of Defence is often the enemy in the fight against mental health problems in our armed forces.

“The most important issue we need to address is the post operational support given to armed forces service personnel undergoing judicial process.
“We have already seen how thousands of our soldiers were wrongly hounded over incidents in Iraq, interrupting their lives and frazzling their mental health.

“It took the threat of a Judicial Review and a Defence Committee Inquiry before the Ministry of Defence announced the closure of its discredited Iraq Historic Allegations Team.

“Now we are seeing history repeat itself with the witch-hunt of historic prosecutions against British troops serving in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.  Again, the impact this is having on their mental health is being swept under the carpet.

“The MoD stands by and does nothing when individuals are hounded and lives ruined decades after serving in conflict zones away from family and friends with the daily risk of serious injury or death.”

Continued Hilary:

“There is also the ongoing scandal over the thousands of serving military personnel and veterans who were prescribed the drug mefloquine, marketed under the brand name Lariam, on foreign tours.

“We believe up to 17,000 members of the armed forces may have been prescribed mefloquine and not given proper advice about how to take it.

“Most drugs have side effects but with Lariam, which can cause psychiatric abnormalities, it is essential that the recipient is made aware of the long list of potential symptoms.  The military’s basic duty of care towards service personnel is to take reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable problems, yet they prescribed Lariam without providing the correct advice and support.”