People often struggle to understand mental health and trauma amongst Veterans because these injuries sustained by Veterans are physically invisible.
We have developed this quick Myth Buster guide to address some common myths surrounding mental trauma amongst Veterans in the UK. We want people to know more about Veterans’ mental health and the symptoms of trauma so that they can have those important conversations that tackle stigma and open up avenues for vulnerable Veterans to seek early mental health rehabilitation.
If you know someone who can benefit from our ‘Homeless Heroes Mental Health Myth Buster’, or would like to help tackle the stigma of Veteran mental health, please share this page using one of our social media options highlighted at the bottom of this page.
MYTH: You can only get mental illness if you have been in active combat.
FACT: To the contrary, as there are many traumatic experiences which soldiers, sailors and airmen alike, witness during their military service that may take place outside of active combat situations. Whether it is during training or other activities in war zones, these traumatic experiences can stay with servicemen and women and lead to mental ill-health in later life.
MYTH: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the only mental illness caused by military service.
FACT: PTSD is by far the most common mental illness most associated with military service but that’s not to say this is the only mental illness suffered by ex-servicemen and women. Some ex-servicemen and women have reported suffering from depression, anxiety, panic attacks and substance abuse.
MYTH: You cannot cure PTSD.
FACT: This is a misguided viewpoint shared by numerous members of the public. In fact, if PTSD is diagnosed early and the patient receives the right treatment in the right environment, rates of recovery are very positive. Do note that if PTSD has been left untreated for a number of years, the patient will require more intensive treatment but there are still positive health outcomes for patients, with the potential for a life beyond symptoms.
Many Veterans generally become symptom free for long periods of time and live normal fulfilling lives where they are able to work with the condition. There is however, a high risk of delayed-onset of PTSD and this is where symptoms do not occur for years, even decades after the traumatic event. Often those Veterans exposed to the effects of multiple traumas over a longer period of time present with delayed on-set PTSD. This suggests that those who serve multiple tours are more at risk of developing PTSD several years after leaving the Military.
MYTH: Senior ranking officers don’t suffer from mental illness, only junior ranking officers.
FACT: This is definitely incorrect! No matter your rank, any Armed Forces serviceman or woman can suffer from mental illness as a result of the traumatic experiences endured during their time in service. Many Veterans from Privates up to Brigadiers have reported suffering mental ill-health upon returning home and even whilst in service.
MYTH: UK Armed Forces personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have always returned with psychological injuries.
FACT: Studies have shown that a majority of Armed Forces personnel deployed actually do not experience lasting mental wounds as a result of their service. However, around 1 in 25 Regulars and 1 in 20 Reservists will report symptoms of PTSD following deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan. This is very similar to the rate in the general population. That is, 1 in 5 Veterans are likely to suffer from a common mental illness – such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks or substance misuse – which has been caused or aggravated by their Armed Forces experiences.
MYTH: There is a raising increase of Veterans’ mental health problems building up.
FACT: Indeed, there has been an increase in the number of Veteran mental health rehabilitation referrals year on year but recent studies suggest this is due to an increased awareness of the symptoms and where to seek help.
Living with someone with mental ill-health is tough!
Sir Patrick Stewart once said: “My father suffered in silence with the psychological wounds he sustained in the Second World War. Through speaking with mental health charities for Veterans, I now understand how the trauma affected my father on a daily basis and why it is important for Veterans to seek help.”
It is important that families know the signs of trauma so that they can support Veterans in seeking help. If Veterans or their loved ones recognise a change in behavior, we urge them to contact us for further information on how their loved one can rebuild their life.
Here at Homeless Heroes Aid, we know that if you live with, or care about, someone with Service-related mental health problems, everyone in the home is affected. Many Veterans’ mental illness can stay hidden for years and they and their families may try to deal with matters at home. However, this does cause stress on relationships, which suffer more in the long run when Veterans turn to homelessness. Partners often tell us that it feels like they are walking on eggshells and tend to be in the front line for reactions from Veterans suffering mental illness in silence. And children can find it difficult to cope with the situation too as they do not understand how daddy or mommy could have changed so much.
You are not alone. Please don’t suffer in silence – email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information for anyone affected by Service-related mental health problems, including family members.
Partner charities helping families of veterans coping with mental illness
Ripple Pond is a peer support group there for adult family members of those who have been impacted by events experienced, be that by physical injury or emotional trauma, while serving in the Armed Forces, however long ago and in whatever conflict or manner.
One young person’s view of mental illness
Children and young people are affected in many different ways by living with a parent suffering mental ill-health. Niamh Finlay Howe is 15 and has written two books about her experiences of living with a parent suffering with PTSD. Niamh has grown up with her step-father, (a Veteran who is being supported by Combat Stress) as he’s struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She has written two books, which she hopes will help other young family members understand more about their dad’s or mum’s condition.
Her first book, “Mummy why does Daddy cry?” explains the lack of understanding a child has when a family member is changed by mental illness. There is a need to ask questions, but also a fear that they are the cause of the problem.
By the second book, “So what, my Dad has PTSD!” Niamh has learnt quite a lot about PTSD and she tries to explain to the reader why her dad does strange things and is no longer the happy smiling person he once was.
“He has been hurt in the past and now locked all his feelings in a box deep, deep inside himself. Mum also explained that due to the mental illness his body is not able to produce the chemicals needed to make him happy, guess that explains a lot!”
Both books are available to buy on the Lulu website.