Veteran suicides: Why PTSD must not define our brave armed forces

PTSD and suicide must not be allowed to define our brave Armed Forces.

It is a myth that most veterans are ‘broken’. The reality is that most veterans successfully adapt to life after the military and flourish in the civilian world. Their qualities of hard work, integrity and organisation make them among the most well-respected members of our communities.

More must be done to look after our veterans

More must be done to look after our veterans

But for a small minority life is difficult when they leave the Services.

Without their old support network some veterans feel a sense of loss and isolation. A new sense of purpose can be difficult to establish. Mental health issues such as PTSD, depression, gambling or alcohol misuse can make transition even more difficult and leave them uncertain about where to turn when they need help.

Knowing where to turn can make a real difference.

One UK study found that veterans younger than 24 who had been discharged from the Armed Forces, were between two and three times more likely to take their own life than their peers still serving. This study also found that veterans in the highest suicide risk age groups were least likely to have had any contact with specialist mental health support.

There are many reasons why veterans do not seek help when they need it most: stigma, shame, guilt, lack of trust in health services, being let down before, and simply not knowing where to turn to get help are common.

More needs to be done to understand the scope of the problem and ensure veterans know where to access help before they get to crisis point.

Help for Heroes is working hard to reduce stigma and improve access to support for veterans and their families. We are currently running a pilot supporting family members to talk to their veteran about accessing mental health support. This can be a very difficult conversation to have for many families, and sometimes it’s a conversation that may need to occur numerous times before the Veteran may be ready to listen or seek help.

One suicide is one suicide too many amongst those who have given up so much to serve their country,

How to get help from Help for Heroes

Help for Heroes Hidden Wounds service provides free and confidential support to Ex-Service Personnel, their families and the families of those still serving, who are living with anxiety, depression, stress, anger or who wish to change their drinking habits.

They also offer a programme supporting families to talk to their veteran loved one. While Hidden Wounds is not a crisis service, it may be able to provide support.

Please contact 0808 2020 144 (free from UK landlines and mobiles) or email on hidden.wounds@helpforheroes.org.uk for an informal chat. Visit helpforheroes.org.uk/hidden-wounds for more information.

If you are in crisis, please contact Samaritans on 116 123 contact your GP or go to your nearest A&E service.

Find out more about our investigation into the hidden epidemic of veterans taking their own lives here

Ex-serviceman who battled suicidal thoughts backs our military suicides campaign

Sussex coroners quiet on military suicide figures amid calls for better recording of veteran deaths

How Australia, The US and Canada keep track of ex-military suicide rates