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NHS expands mental health support for veterans

Posted on January 31st, 2024

 

NHS expands mental health support for veterans with more than half saying it’s hard to speak up

The NHS is rolling out an expanded mental health support service for Armed Forces veterans, as a survey found that more than half find it difficult to speak up about mental health issues.

The health service has today (9 January) launched a new campaign to highlight its Op COURAGE service, which now includes enhanced specialist support for addictions.

Latest available data shows that from April-November 2023, more than 4,500 referrals were made to the NHS service which provides specialist care, support and treatment to former Armed Forces personnel, reservists, and service leavers with mental health and wellbeing issues.

More than 30,000 referrals have been made to the veterans’ mental health and wellbeing ‘lifeline’ service since it was first launched by the NHS in 2017.

There are about 2.4 million veterans living in the UK.

A new survey of over 3,000 veterans and serving personal, carried out by NHS England, found that the majority (around 60%), of those who took part, said they found it difficult to ask for help for mental health issues.

For those who sought help from Op COURAGE, self-referral was the top method (around 44%).

More than half of respondents (52%) said they currently had, or had previously had, a mental health problem and 54% said they had a physical health problem now or had previously had one.

As a result, NHS England redesigned the service, with a focus on boosting self-referrals, as well as the addition of enhanced addiction support, and today kicked off an awareness campaign highlighting the service which supports veterans, reservists, and service leavers.

Support for veterans, reservists, and service leavers through OP COURAGE is provided by trained professionals from the Armed Forces community or with extensive experience of working with the military.

The survey was undertaken between April-May 2022 and received 3,095 responses.

Dr Jonathan Leach OBE, NHS England Associate Medical Director for Armed Forces and Veterans Health, said: “The NHS Op COURAGE service is unique – our staff are not only highly trained clinical professionals, but they are also either ex-military or know the military culture first-hand. This sets them up to provide a non-judgemental service and build trust with those seeking help.

“Our research has found that veterans can often struggle to know when to ask for help, but by providing them with professionals who have a deeper understanding of what they are going through, we are able to share success stories, such as Denis and Debbie.”

Minister of State for Veterans’ Affairs, Johnny Mercer, said: “I am determined to make this the best country in the world to be a veteran, but to do that we need veterans and the public to be aware of what support is already available to them, including our dedicated mental health service Op COURAGE.

“I would strongly urge anyone who is struggling to reach out. Help is available through Op COURAGE in England, dedicated NHS services in Scotland and Wales, and the Veterans’ Support Office in Northern Ireland.”

Former Royal Marine, Invictus Games medallist and TV presenter JJ Chalmers, said: “If you’ve served in the Armed Forces, you’re forever part of this community of people who have a shared history, but even with people around you, it can be so difficult to ask for help and support when you need it most. Recognising when you need to reach out is the first hurdle and fellow veterans can help so much with this, as they’ve been through it too.

“The wonderful thing about Op COURAGE, is that it has been developed by veterans, for veterans – the trained NHS professionals you’ll speak to are from the Armed Forces or have experience of working with the community. They really get where you’ve come from.

“I remember how hard it was adjusting to life after the military, getting to grips with civvy street after everything I went through in Afghanistan. Having a service like the Op COURAGE to support you is invaluable.”

Army veteran Denis Mutisya, 36, from Gloucester, who served in the 19th Regiment Royal Artillery, said: “I connected with Op COURAGE when I was discharged from the Royal Artillery due to both physical and mental health issues. That one call – it changed my life.

“One of the first things the service told me was that I needed to put my health first and that they’d support me and be there alongside me the whole time. Up to that point, I thought I’d reached the end, but they helped me realise it was just the beginning.”

Debbie Cooper, 55, from Gloucester, who served in the Royal Air Force, said: “When I left the service, I had a profession that easily transferred to the civilian world, and it wasn’t until I was in my late 40s that I really started to struggle in my job, both physically and mentally, and I had to medically retire. Losing a role I’d worked hard to build up to left a big hole in my life – I felt like I’d failed and I was scared about how I’d support my family.

“I was aware I needed help, and I tried, but it wasn’t easy. Everywhere I turned, no one really understood. Ultimately, I found myself in hospital after trying to end my life – I had lost all hope.

“I was searching for support online and came across Op COURAGE – it was the first glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. Talking to them was a breath of fresh air – I felt like someone was finally listening and responding in a way that was helpful – they got where I was coming from and understood my experiences, it finally felt like someone cared.

“They gave me hope recovery was possible and liaised with my local mental health team on my behalf, which was really important to me.”

Visit Op COURAGE for more information about the service.

In 2022, NHS England launched a survey to find out people’s views and experiences of veterans’ mental and physical health services. The information gathered has been used to help inform the development and provision of these services, in particular Op COURAGE: The Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service and Op RESTORE: The Veterans Physical Health and Wellbeing Service.

The survey was live between 8 April 2022 and 22 May 2022 and received 3,095 responses.

Respondents included a mix of veterans (85%), serving personnel, reservists and their family members and carers, as well as organisations and representatives from the NHS, military and non-military charities and other sectors.

1,487 (52%) indicated they had a mental health problem presently or previously and 1,527 (54%) indicated they had a physical health problem presently or previously.

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