No health without mental health: a Forces view

Society is rightly judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. But when it comes to caring for our ex-servicemen and women, it seems that this principle is all too quickly forgotten. As a former army colonel with nearly 40 years service I am well aware of the huge sacrifices, and the subsequent burdens, that are placed on our armed forces. None is greater, or harder to deal with, then the issue of mental health.

Injuries suffered in battle are completely different to those in normal day life and our brave men and women require special care. In the past there has almost been a conspiracy of silence in simply refusing to talk about the unacceptable state of our mental health services. Sadly this silence has too often included veterans. Given the huge numbers of troops who have served in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, it is inevitable that there will be an increasing demand on mental health services for veterans. It’s therefore, vital that veterans are given the right support to help them make the transition back to Civvy Street.

Mental symptoms can take a long time to surface and they are harder to deal with in civilian life. That is why it is so important that people suffering from mental health problems are afforded the same level of care as people suffering from physical conditions. Lib Dem Health Minister, Paul Burstow, should be applauded for his work on the Government’s new mental health strategy, No Health Without Mental Health, which for the first time ensures that mental health is given the same importance as physical health. Over £7million in additional funding has been made available over the next four years to help ensure that service personnel and veterans with mental health problems get the very best care. This may not sound like a huge sum of money, but I can assure you that every extra penny is warmly welcomed. This funding will ensure that service and ex-service personnel have access to psychological therapies, specialised veterans therapists and online counselling services. This additional funding will also be used to ensure that the combat stress helpline is able to continue operating 24hours a day, 7 days a week. Anyone who has had any contact with veterans will tell you how important it is that the Government continues to support the fantastic service that combat stress provides.

Veterans with mental health problems too often don’t get the treatment they need simply because medical professionals aren’t trained to spot them. It can often be extremely difficult for veterans to admit that they are suffering from mental health problems, so it’s crucial that our medical professionals are given the right tools to help our ex-servicemen and women. It’s a problem that the Government are clearly keen to tackle head on by providing training for GPs and other NHS staff who may come into contact with veterans with mental health needs along with access to an e-learning package to help them treat veterans who need their help

The last Labour Government proved that throwing money at a problem doesn’t always give you an answer. When it comes to mental health, this Government is not only spending bigger but spending better. Both Paul Burstow and Nick Clegg have consistently championed the importance of ensuring that mental health is no longer the poor relation to physical health. As the Chairman of the Liberal Democrats Friends of the Armed Forces and former senior army commander, I am delighted that Liberal Democrats are being given the chance to put these principles into practice in Government.

Colonel Terry Scriven (retd) is Chairman of Liberal Democrats Friends of the Armed Forces

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This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.

One Comment

  • I’m glad to see that as a party we are seeking, and heeding, the advice of those who’ve been at the sharp end and know the score. Let me applaud what you’re doing.

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