Panorama's Broken by Battle showed the impact of PTSD on soldiers struggling to adapt to civilian life

This week the BBC's Panorama programme screened Broken by Battle, a documentary about the impact of PTSD on ex-servicemen. At TimeBank this is something we are very familiar with through our work on the Shoulder to Shoulder programme which supports veterans with PTSD.

Those who leave the Armed Forces with mental health problems can struggle to access the support they need to make a successful transition into civilian life. They are vulnerable to homelessness and unemployment, and may experience problems with anger management, intense loneliness, lack of direction, relationship problems, physical health issues, alcohol/substance dependency and increasing vulnerability to a range of social difficulties.

We know from our work with ex-servicemen and women living with mental health problems in the community that this is a largely hidden problem. In many cases ex-servicemen and women will not present to their GPs, mental health services, veterans or mainstream charities – they slip off the radar and are hard to reach. To address this we believe there needs to be more partnership work between GPs, statutory mental health services, veterans charities and the mainstream voluntary and community sector. There also needs to be resourcing to help identify where veterans are - and in particular those with mental health problems.

A 2012 study by King’s College London Centre for Military Health Research found that reservists were twice as likely to have symptoms of mental health problems as their counterparts who did not deploy. A 2006 study by the Royal British Legion found that veterans in the 16-44 age group had a much higher level of mental health problems than the same group in the general population.

Anger management and violence are a particular problem for this group.  Recent research in the Lancet, funded by the Ministry of Defence, highlighted the fact that younger members of the armed forces are more likely to commit violent offences than the rest of the population: in particular those under-30, where one in five had committed a violent offence. The 2012 King’s College London Centre research also found that soldiers involved in direct combat were also twice as likely to admit hitting someone at the end of the tour, with a third of the victims being someone in the family.

Family members of territorials, reservists and ex-Service personnel do not always receive the support they need to manage and understand the needs of their partners, and the unique challenges they, the families, face. In the most recent survey by the Army Families Federation (Annual Survey 2012), 30% of respondents said they have or had mental health problems, with a similar percentage unhappy with the support families and family members received from their GP.

TimeBank’s Shoulder to Shoulder programme for ex-service men and women recovering from PTSD and other mental health issues recognises these challenges and works with veterans  to make positive changes. In an external evaluation of our Shoulder to Shoulder programme by Órla Cronin Research they describe how having a volunteer mentor made them feel less isolated and brought new trust and hope for the future.

The evaluation found that many service veterans were in a state of crisis in their lives, with complex and multi-faceted problems including financial hardship, homelessness, alcohol dependency, physical health problems and mental health problems including depression, anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia.

Mentoring helped to alleviate their stress and isolation and helped them overcome daily challenges like taking public transport, budgeting and exercising. Some were able to start training and job hunting. Their ability to think optimistically about the future, both in setting goals, and in taking small steps towards those goals, improved over the course of the project. 

The project is the first peer mentoring project in the UK which supports ex-service men and women who are suffering from mental health issues in this way. If you'd like to know more about Shoulder to Shoulder, take a look here.