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Monday 27 June 2022

The real story of veterans’ mental health

Posted by: Help For Heroes | Categories: PTSD

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. 

Behind the times 

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.  

What is PTSD?  

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.

There is no hierarchy of mental health conditions 

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.  

Reluctance to ask for help 

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.  

People are trained to join the military, they are not trained to leave it 

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. 

Our Sports, Activity and Fellowship programme gives veterans the chance to take part in group sports as part of their recovery journey

Our Sports, Activity and Fellowship programme gives veterans the chance to take part in group sports as part of their recovery journey

The danger of isolation 

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.  

One of the first things our teams do is encourage veterans to take part in our carefully planned and supported sporting and social activities.  

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.  

Talking saves lives 

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. 

Understanding and respecting those who risked everything for us 

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.

Find out more

Media Guidelines

Media Guidelines

We are convinced that the one dimensional media portrayal of veterans is a huge contributing factor to a negative stigma. We encourage people working in the media to think about these guidelines when creating a story featuring a veteran.

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If a television drama or film features a veteran, it’s almost guaranteed they will post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. And they will not be managing their condition well. Having worked with more than 27,000 veterans and family members, we know lazy on-screen stereotypes don’t show a full or accurate picture.

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Kev Gray

Kev Gray

"We’re told to talk out about mental health, but it backfires on us. We have a lot to offer, but if TV and film continue to only show us as damaged goods nothing will change."

Read more - Kev Gray
Annette Laurie

Annette Laurie

“It’s nearly always men who are shown with PTSD and, even then, unrealistically. I would like to see more women portrayed with PTSD and, not as violent individuals, but as normal people with psychological issues"

Read more - Annette Laurie
Jay Saunders

Jay Saunders

“Veterans are always stereotypical in TV dramas and in films – especially those with PTSD. They are automatically a danger to society, a loner who can’t socially interact. They’ll wear drab olive clothes, hit the bottle, and turns to violence"

Read more - Jay Saunders
David Dent

David Dent

“There's a segment of television and media that will portray people in a negative light. They tend to portray veterans as someone who has got a problem, and I think this creates a degree of unconscious bias in some employers, health care professionals, social services and society in general."

Read more - David Dent
Trevor Cowell

Trevor Cowell

“All I can recall seeing were veterans who had a screw loose, unstable, with drink problems and who flew off the handle at the slightest thing. I didn’t want the label that PTSD would give me, as I felt people would assume I would be like the veterans they and I had seen on TV"

Read more - Trevor Cowell
Armed Forces & Veterans Support

Get support for wounded veterans and families

We’re here when you need us, whether you’re a Veteran of our Armed Forces or currently serving, a family member or loved one.

Read more - Get support for wounded veterans and families