David Dent MBE, 55, lives in Carluke, South Lanarkshire.
A bruised and bloodied veteran constantly on edge, drinking too much, having relationship problems, posing a risk to themselves and those around them, in the end solves the case and saves the day.
It could be the plot from several TV series or films. Going on viewing figures alone, it works. But the narrative has got a bit stuck and there is a lot more to the story.
Mental health has received a lot of positive attention in recent years. Sadly, this isn’t yet reflected in how the mental health of the veteran community is portrayed in the media or valued in society.
Very often our hero will have post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, which has become shorthand for mental health difficulties among veterans.
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder. No two cases are the same. It can cause people to relive traumatic events through nightmares and flashbacks. Symptoms might not start for years afterwards.
There can be positives that come with PTSD. The term post-traumatic growth refers to when people who have had PTSD focus intently on achieving something difficult.
It’s estimated that PTSD affects seven per cent of veterans, and four per cent of the general UK population.
Depression, agoraphobia, grief, and other mental health conditions can all put veterans’ lives on hold.
There is a risk that the media focusing solely on PTSD means that veterans with other mental health conditions see themselves as less deserving of support. The dramatic portrayal of PTSD is also making those who have it reluctant to seek support.
People who have never served in the Armed Forces can develop PTSD after a car crash, if they’ve been the victim of a crime, or because of a tough childbirth.
There is no shame in anyone having any mental health condition. Greater awareness about mental health in general will make it easier for people to get the help they need.
There is a stigma around mental health among people who served in the military, particularly if they served 10 to 20 years ago, or longer.
These are people who were trained to always get the job done no matter what, to push themselves harder than their minds and bodies wanted them to, and not to complain or talk about their emotions.
Unsurprisingly, veterans can be reluctant to ask for help with their mental health.
What is needed is a greater understanding of this group of people, and to give them the means and encouragement to ask for help. Their constant negative and dramatic portrayal is preventing people from seeking potentially life-saving support.
Life after a military career can be tough, especially if it has been cut short by injury or illness. The Armed Forces is a tight knit and supportive community. The civilian world can be a shock. Having poor mental health on top of that can be overwhelming.
Veterans often don’t trust doctors and the healthcare system. It’s alien and confusing. Likewise, healthcare professionals sometimes don’t understand the veteran mentality.
There is some tremendous work being done to build bridges, but there is still a disconnect between veterans and professionals working in a range of fields, who provide vital services.
The misconception that all veterans are damaged or dangerous isn’t helping.
Isolation is a serious problem for the veteran community. Cutting themselves off from their family, friends and local community can seem like a sensible coping mechanism and a way to avoid being a ‘burden’ on anyone. However, it can be the start of a vicious cycle that can lead to people’s physical and mental health deteriorating.
Sometimes just a coffee and a chat with someone who truly understands, because they’ve been there too, can turn someone’s life around. Likewise, taking up a sport or hobby again, can help people regain their spirit and confidence.
But coaxing nervous veterans to take the first step to get support, can be so difficult. Constantly seeing themselves in the spotlight as troubled individuals is making people prisoners in their own homes.
Veterans, like anyone else, will benefit from talking openly about their feelings, and seeking professional help if necessary.
We have a bespoke counselling service for veterans and families who have any mental health condition. Through one-to-one sessions with our Hidden Wounds team, people can discuss anything they are struggling with.
If a veteran is having mental health problems, this can impact considerably on families. That’s why all our support is available to families too.
One in four adults in the UK will have a mental health condition at some point in their life. People recover from poor mental health and lead productive lives. Veterans are no different.
When a veteran has a mental health condition, they are no more dangerous to society than anyone else. What’s more this is a group of people with tremendous talents, attributes, and work ethic. But all people see is this distorted and negative portrayal.
As a country, we ask a lot of our Armed Forces community, and they don’t ask for much in return. Veterans are human beings with feelings and limits. Like anyone, they are the product of their environment and circumstances. What they went through with their military training and experience, to keep us safe, has quite possibly put them at greater risk of poor mental health. Surely, what they deserve in return is a greater understanding and the necessary support to live a happy and fulfilling life.
If you are a veteran or a family member and are struggling, please get in touch with our team.
David Dent MBE, 55, lives in Carluke, South Lanarkshire.
Annette Laurie, 62, joined the Naval Reserve in 1984, aged 24.
Jay, 52, lives in Gosport, Hants. Jay feels that veterans are always stereotypical in TV dramas and in films – especially those with PTSD.
Trevor is 40, lives in South Staffordshire, and served in the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment and RAMC until he left the army in 2016.