Mental ill-health in the UK armed forces

According to inews’ Nigel Morris (1), “More than 60,000 armed forces veterans in the UK have broken the law, are homeless or are suffering mental health problems, a study has disclosed.”

The scale of their struggle to adjust to civilian life brought accusations that ministers were failing men and women who had risked their lives for their country. According to the analysis, some 50,000 are coping with mental health conditions, 10,000 are in prison, on parole or on probation and 6,000 have no permanent address.

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Mental Health First Aid England (2) reported that in 2015/16, 3.2% of UK armed forces personnel were assessed with a mental health disorder – over 6,000 people. Many more go undiagnosed and untreated. The most common ways these stressors impact on members of the armed forces are depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and alcohol misuse.

Just like the rest of the population, stigma and lack of awareness around our mental health compared to our physical health is often a barrier to armed forces personnel getting the treatment they need to recover.

MHFA training courses teach people to spot the symptoms of mental health issues, offer initial help and guide a person towards support. It won’t teach you to be a therapist, but it will teach you to listen, reassure and respond, even in a crisis – and even potentially stop a crisis from happening.

Developed in collaboration with the UK’s leading military support charities, Armed Forces MHFA is tailored to the unique culture and mental health needs of the military community. For everyone in the armed forces community – serving and ex-serving personnel, their families and support organisations – our training gives you the skills to:

  • Stop a preventable health issue from escalating by spotting and addressing it early
  • Know how and where to access treatment if it’s needed, for a faster recovery
  • Help keep yourself, the people you support, your colleagues and your family healthy
  • Minimise the impact of mental ill-health on work and life

Perhaps you would be interested in MHFA Armed Forces training? Take a look at their website.

NHS mental health care for veterans (3) report “Mental illness is common and can affect anyone (including serving and ex-members of the Armed Forces and their families). Whilst some people cope by getting support from their family and friends, or by getting help with other issues in their lives, others need clinical care and treatment, which could be from the NHS, support groups or charities.”

Within the NHS, there is a range of mental health services that provide different types of care and treatment. This includes dedicated mental health services for service personnel approaching discharge from the British Armed Forces and veterans. By veteran, the NHS says “we mean anyone who has served for at least one day in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces (regular or reserve).

These dedicated services are called the NHS Veterans’ Mental Health Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service (TILS) and the NHS Veterans’ Mental Health Complex Treatment Service (CTS). Both of these services are provided by specialists in mental health who have an expert understanding of the Armed Forces.

But those who deliver mental health support say demand for assistance is rising and charities say more flexible and efficient support is what personnel and veterans need. Veterans charity, Combat Stress, claims it receives nearly 2,000 new referrals every year, Laura Makin-Isherwood, 2019 (4). However, in May 2019, it was said that Prince Charles was set to launch a £10m appeal to help fund their work.

That same month, the Defence Secretary, Penny Mordaunt announced up to £9m will be allocated to mental health and wellbeing activities for ex-service personnel, and support will be given to veteran-led groups looking for funding.

Veteran Mental Health – What’s next?

“The NHS has recently rolled out a new scheme, the ‘National Heroes Service’, part of the NHS Long Term Plan. It has been designed to improve the primary care of those who served and their families. Through the scheme, GPs are sent comprehensive resource packages helping them to identify veterans and ensure that hospitals and staff recognise their military background. Subsequently, if specialist care is needed the patient can then be directed to specific referral pathways.” Ed Parker, 2019 (5)

While GP services should always be the first point of contact for a veteran seeking mental health support, there are specialist veteran services that have been set up in order to address veteran’s needs. These services have a better understanding of the mitigating circumstances the individual may have faced because of their military service, and ensure greater engagement and empathy with the patient.

Although steps have been taken to simplify the veteran care pathway through care coordination, more can be done to enable veterans to gain easy access to the support they need. As a group of charities with the same beneficiary at stake, we must continue to strive for collaborative, ethical, informed outcomes that enable veterans to live independent of both State and Third Sector support.

  1. Nigel Morris,
  2. MHFA Armed Forces
  3. NHS mental health care for veterans.
  4. Laura Makin-Isherwood,
  5. Ed Parker, Walking with the


Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

4 thoughts on “Mental ill-health in the UK armed forces”

  1. Support for veterans is needed and manditory. The country sends them out, they need to be cared for. But their families too. It can be so immensly difficult to deal with for example PTSD. It is so difficult to find therapists who can efficiently cope with PTSD. It is a very long road and veterans should be helped instead of like it feels sometimes ‘be disposed of’ – sorry for the hurtful language, but that is my feeling sometimes.
    I think it is really good that more pathways to an appropiate caresetting are being provided . I do feel sometimes for the GPs. They are first line in everything. How can that be sustainable in the long term?

    1. I think that, to date, veterans are treated way better in the States, while in the UK, many of ours are left on their own to cope, often homeless and alone. Hopefully, this will improve through the injection of cash promised to Veteran charities this year. And yes, you’re right, how much more can our GP’s see or do when they have such huge caseloads.

  2. I’ll have to see if there’s anything like the MHFA courses in my locale. I encounter a fair number of veterans in difficult circumstances through my job and I would love to feel better prepared to respond to them in a helpful way. Right now, I just try to be as compassionate as possible, but I’m sure I could improve.

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