Tuesday 10th October 2023
World Mental Health Day is today (October 10, 2023), and SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity is joining many other organisations and individuals in raising awareness of this significant event.
There are, of course and for want of a better phrase, certain “occupational hazards” related to military service. Those faced by men and women likely to be deployed operationally are higher and carry the unpleasant, but accepted risk of death or injury. Spouses, families, and children on “the home front”, however, have their own stressors.
And it’s important to recognise this because mental health is at least as vital as our physical health. It influences, strongly, day-to-day living including how we feel, how we do things – from how we work to how we relax and how we get on with our lives – as well as our ability get with people all while looking after ourselves and others.
Many of us will have read or heard the statistic about mental health and “one in four…”, right?
Well, like a lot of stats, there is more to it than that simple value, in this case a quarter of all adults experiencing mental health issues. The assumption is that this 25% refers to the whole course of one’s life.
Wrong: that’s in any given year. What’s more is that the figure for children and young people is one in 10 in a year. These are near-epidemic figures, and if you forgive the dark humour, enough to make anyone worry.
But we shouldn’t. What we should do is be reassured that mental health is part of life like physical health: it can be good, it can be poor, it can be fair to middling.
American writer and Vietnam veteran wrote the book If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home about his tour of duty. The bleakly matter-of-fact title belies a book of wit, compassion, and understanding. It is often most remembered today for his thoughts of courage and the quote:
“Courage, I seemed to think, comes to us in finite quantities, like an inheritance, and by being frugal and stashing it away and letting it earn interest, we steadily increase our moral capital in preparation for that day when the account must be drawn down.”
Replace “courage” with “good mental health” and we’re given a clear message that the day will come when we need a hand, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.
So, where to go for help?
For some people, especially serving personnel, friends and family can seem to be enough.
One “advantage” is that this way, it’s more contained. Fewer people know about it. Your CO or base Welfare Officer won’t necessarily learn of it, and it won’t show on your service record.
But that might not be enough support, certainly not professional however well-intentioned, and the burden put on those closest to us can be hard for them.
SSAFA doesn’t deliver medical, counselling, or advocacy services, but it can help you contact those who do while offering a friendly shoulder to lean on.
The support comes in several ways, but remember, if you’re experiencing mental health problems then in the first instance you must contact your GP if you are ex-Forces, and the Defence Medical Service if you are serving.
SSAFA – the UK’s oldest tri-service charity – enjoys a continuing relationship with US military organisation TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors).
The support given and received is informal and based on shared experiences and making new friendships and relationships, while honouring and remembering those who have died.
The most recent SSAFA-TAPS event – with families invited to the now-annual NFL game at Wembley Stadium – took place just over a week ago. Surviving family members cried, but they also laughed, smiled, and remembered in their own ways because healing is a process unique to each person.
Parents – especially new parents – often need little more support. SSAFA again has help available.
Each May, the Community Health Team (CHT) – based in Cyprus and focused on serving UKAF personnel stationed overseas – marks Parental Mental Health Week, but its work is year-round.
One SSAFA health visitor, Ceri Henderson, commented: “We know that being a parent overseas as part of the military community comes with a unique set of challenges, people are away from their families, usual support networks, and friends.
“SSAFA’s Parental Mental Health Week gave us an opportunity to focus on what support is available to the community, hold some focused conversations with groups, provide some ideas for both self-help and maintaining positive mental health, and also highlight the support that health visitors, and the wider Community Health Team, provides all year round.”
The CHT’s support extends to children of Armed Forces personnel, too and it plays an active role in marking unique experience’ of Armed Forces youngsters in children’s Mental Health Week.
SSAFA’s Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) team and School Nurses take this as their impetus for workshops carried out in schools – with a military slant to it.
Former SSAFA CHT CAMHS Nurse Siobhan Cambridge said that membership of the Armed Forces community is a “…unique experience that provides many great opportunities for its personnel and their families, but within this unique experience can be many challenges faced by the young people within this community.”
Services are not just for Forces’ children overseas.
For young people abroad or in the UK, the Army Welfare Service has commissioned Kooth – a mental wellbeing support network – launch a dedicated website for children and young people from serving families. This free and confidential service, dedicated to Forces’ children, can be accessed here.
For more information about the services and support SSAFA’s Community Health Team provides to military families overseas, please visit its webpage here or the SSAFA Community Health Facebook page for information on your local (closed) Facebook group.
Other valuable resources available include Every Mind Matters and Op COURAGE, which is an NHS service supported by trained professionals who are from, or have experience of working with, the Armed Forces community.
The range of services out there or that SSAFA can signpost people to while not exhaustive covers most of the situations that a military family, individual, or child might experience.
Like the old Bob Hoskins BT adverts, remember, it’s good to talk, because once you talk, you’ll find that people will listen and can help.
See also: Mental health