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Supporting veterans with mental health problems

Op Courage has been launched by the NHS with the Office for Veterans Affairs as part of a wider effort to expand mental health services for veterans, writes Hannah Swarbrick, an Associate in the Military Claims team at the law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp.

The service is intended to provide high intensity treatment including therapy, rehabilitation and inpatient care to veterans suffering from mental health problems. It will focus on those who have reached crisis point and are at risk of self-harm or suicide, or suffering other problems such as homelessness and addiction. Those needing urgent help will receive a same day referral.

The service will draw on existing resources within the NHS as well as specialist services that are provided by military charities.

There are around 2.4 million veterans living in the UK and around one in 20 will suffer from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A smaller number will have severe and complex mental health needs. PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events. It is common for veterans to suffer from delayed-onset PTSD where symptoms emerge many months or even years after experiencing a traumatic event. For this reason, many veterans will not have sought medical treatment until they leave the military and may have already started in a civilian career.

The private security industry can offer an ideal career path for veterans because it is compatible with the skills and experience that someone will have gained during a military career. Key skills and attributes will include physical fitness, the ability to work as part of a team, courage, resilience, self-reliance and the ability to react to the unexpected. All of these attributes make veterans ideal employees because they are trained to be mentally and physically tough, but it is important for a civilian employer to be able to recognise when someone might be struggling with their mental health and understand how best to respond.

What are the signs/symptoms to look out for? Symptoms of PTSD can include:

• Reliving the traumatic events in the form of flashbacks or nightmares;
• Avoidance behaviours such as avoiding people or places that are a reminder of the trauma; and
• Hyperarousal or feeling ‘on edge’ which can lead to irritability, angry outbursts, difficulty concentrating and problems sleeping.

Veterans suffering with PTSD may also suffer with other mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. They may develop destructive behaviours such as self-harming or alcohol misuse. They may also experience physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches.

What help is available for veterans?

Employers can find out more about Op Courage on the NHS website.

The service is available to all veterans no matter when they served.

Veterans can contact the service themselves or be referred by a GP or a charity. Friends or family member are also able to contact the service on their behalf.
If you are concerned that an employee is showing signs and symptoms of a mental health problem it is a good idea to reach out to them. They may feel reluctant or embarrassed to admit there is a problem and seek help so it is important that they are made to feel supported and that they won’t be stigmatised. Being open and honest about mental health is important for everyone and promoting good mental health within the workplace is key to a healthy and thriving business. The Op Courage mental health service is a great resource which is designed to offer targeted support for veterans and is intended to help them thrive in civilian life.


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