Recently I was nominated by a friend to undertake the 22-day push-up challenge to raise awareness for the 22 veterans per day who take their own lives.
This equates to one person every 65 minutes. Whilst this is a statistic based around the US Army, the problem is global and statistics emerged (printed in a national newspaper) in 2012 which stated more veterans had taken their own lives than had been killed in battle.
This is a startling statistic and it could be argued we are failing to look after those who dedicate their lives to looking after us. Between 1995 and 2014 it was estimated nearly 400 troops killed themselves. This figure does not seem that high over a 19-year period, however, keep in mind these were people actively serving who took their own lives on military bases. If you then add these to the amount of ex-servicemen and women who have taken their own lives, the figure increases significantly.
Much of the blame appears to be placed on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and whilst this certainly plays a role, it is not the sole perpetrator. Often people may have a co-morbidity with, for example, depression or another anxiety disorder, which can exacerbate feelings of despondency and make them hyper sensitive.
If you couple this with flashbacks, palpitations, panic etc. it becomes more understandable why people feel there is no alternative.
PTSD, whilst synonymous with veterans, is not solely attributed to them. It’s important to understand not all veterans who have a mental health problem have PTSD and not everyone who has PTSD is necessarily a veteran. As an anxiety disorder we can see the onset of symptoms in anybody who has been exposed to a traumatic event. So people who have been involved in RTSAs, victims of abuse, physical attacks etc. may experience PTSD.
As members of the public, what we can never understand is the impact being in the armed forces has on individuals.
It’s regimented, highly structured and disciplined and being a part of this for several years makes you accustomed to that way of life. It’s something which can never be replicated in other walks of life and so it’s easy to understand why acclimatising back to civilian life can have such an impact. Couple this with experiencing losing colleagues and friends and even having to take the lives of others and it becomes clearer how depression and/or anxiety can set in.
We need to be more vigilant with our veterans and look after them the way they have looked after us.
Be mindful of changes in behaviour, becoming disengaged, dishevelled appearance, lack of motivation, withdrawal from activities (just to mention a few) and try to not just listen, but really hear what they are experiencing.
This is one battle we can fight with them. We must embrace this and let them know we are with them every step of the way to support and protect them like they have us.
For more information visit www.combatstress.org.uk or my own website jasonhansoncounselling.com.