This content discusses trauma, depression and anxiety, which some people may find triggering.
- What can affect my mental health?
- Getting support
Military personnel and veterans can face unique risks and challenges to their mental health.
Being exposed to highly stressful situations, long periods away from home and the difficulty of adjusting to civilian life can all affect your mental health. You may experience problems at the time or even years later.
You may find it difficult to ask for help. Perhaps you feel you should be able to manage on your own, you feel embarrassed, you’re worried about being criticised or you don’t think the NHS will understand. But expert help is available for you, no matter if you’re still serving, have just left the armed forces or left many years ago.
What can affect my mental health?
Most personnel don’t have mental health problems either in service or afterwards. However, some experiences in the armed forces can lead to mental health difficulties. These include:
- working in stressful and traumatic situations
- being away from family and friends for a long time
- physical injuries.
Transitioning back into civilian life can be difficult, especially if you’ve served for a long time. After leaving the armed forces, some people experience:
- relationship or family problems
- social exclusion
Different support is available depending on whether you’re currently serving or if you’re a veteran.
If you’re currently serving
All serving personnel receive mental health care through services commissioned by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
If you’re currently serving and you’re worried about your mental health or just want someone to talk to, speak to your chain of command or any medical officer. You can also contact Combat Stress. They have a 24-hour helpline run in partnership with the Ministry of Defence (MOD). They provide confidential emotional support and advice to current and former military personnel.
Depending on what help you need, you may be given support in your unit medical centre or referred to specialist services.
Specialist services are provided through 16 military Departments of Community Mental Health (DCMH) across the UK. They offer different treatments including medication, talking therapies and social support.
If you need extra support for your mental health, you can get in-patient hospital care through eight different NHS trusts. You’ll be assessed and treated as close to your home or unit as possible.
You may worry that asking for help will mean you have to leave the armed forces. In fact, seven out of ten people who receive specialist mental health support will continue their career. Of those that don’t, many feel fine with the decision to leave.
If you’re a veteran
You may have an image of veterans as older people who served for a long time. In fact, you’re counted as a veteran if you’ve served at least one day in the armed forces. It doesn’t matter how old you are.
As soon as you know where you’ll be living after discharge, register with a GP. Tell them you’ve served in the armed forces so you can access services for veterans.
If you’re worried about your mental health, contact Op Courage. This is a specialist NHS service for veterans, staffed by people who understand the armed forces and military life. They’ll work with you to make sure you get the right help, whether that’s talking therapy, intensive emergency care if you’re in a crisis, help accessing other NHS services or signposting to local organisations who can support you.
You can also contact the Veterans and Reserves Mental Health Programme (VRMHP). They provide assessment and treatment advice for veterans who believe their service affected their mental health. You may be eligible for help in a Department of Community Mental Health (DCMH).
There are lots of specialist services for both current personnel and veterans.
- If you’re not sure what help you need, Veterans Gateway can be a good starting point. They can help you find the right support and signpost you to other organisations. As well as your mental wellbeing, they can help with housing, employment, physical health and financial worries.
- Combat Stress provides specialist treatment and support for veterans dealing with PTSD, depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. They offer a range of services including counselling, residential treatment, peer support and self-help resources.
- Help for Heroes’ Hidden Wounds service supports veterans and their families who are living with depression, stress, anxiety, anger or a drinking problem. They offer self-help as well as individual and group therapy.
- PTSD Resolution provides short courses of counselling for veterans who experienced trauma during their service.
- The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund provides free access to mental health support and therapy through their wellbeing service.
- Togetherall is an online community where you can talk to other people with depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. It’s free to all serving personnel, veterans and their families.
If you’re worried about a current military member or veteran
If you’re worried about your own mental health, there are places that can help you. You can find organisations that can help families of serving personnel and veterans on the Contact website (Contact is a group of organisations involved in military mental health).
For peer support, contact The Ripple Pond. They can put you in touch with other armed forces families so you can feel less alone and support each other.
- Armed Forces · MHFA England
- Armed Forces Personnel who are injured in combat at greater risk of poor mental health - Kings College London
- Centre for Mental Health
- Healthcare for the armed forces community - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
- Mental health support for the UK armed forces - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Perceived stigma and barriers to care in UK Armed Forces personnel and veterans with and without probable mental disorders | BMC Psychology | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)
- Support for war veterans - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Veterans' mental health: key facts | Centre for Mental Health
If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.