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Developing mental health services for veterans in England

NHS England is today asking armed forces veterans to share their experience of mental health services and help improve future care across the country.

The launch of a national survey will help improve the care available for veterans as they move from military to civilian life.

The survey is a chance for veterans to share their experiences and views of existing mental health services and to understand the reasons why some people have not sought or received support and treatment. In addition to seeking views from veterans, family members and carers, as well as staff and organisations that are providing treatment and support in this area are all able to take part.

The NHS currently provides 12 mental health services across England specifically for veterans. They enable specialist staff to care for ex-forces personnel with mental health needs, direct them to the most appropriate service and give them effective treatment. With new contracts due in the next year, this is an opportunity to develop future services that take account of current experiences.

Dr Jonathan Leach, Chair of NHS England’s Armed Forces and their Families Clinical Reference Group, said: “On leaving the armed forces, most people successfully transition back into civilian life. But some individuals can experience very traumatic situations whilst serving in the military before facing the additional challenges of moving back into civilian life, all of which can take a severe toll.

“While mental health awareness is improving, we can do more to identify issues not just with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but with wider problems linked to anxiety and depression. We are asking for feedback from veterans, their families and NHS specialists so that the right care and support is available early and easily for those who need it.”

It is hoped that thinking about their experiences will help to start breaking down some of the stigma when it comes to talking about mental health issues.

One veteran to benefit from the care delivered by NHS staff at the Veterans First Service is Spencer Orchard. Spencer served in the British Army and saw action in the first Gulf War but his experiences lead to him showing the classic signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). After struggling with anger management problems and adjusting to civilian society, he came to the service run by the North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.

After extensive treatment, Spencer is doing well. He is pursuing a new career as a psychologist and is looking to help others who have gone through similar experiences. He is doing voluntary work at the local university and helping staff with a research project into PTSD.

Meanwhile Tony Stubbs, who served three years in the Army, was also struggling after his time in the military ended. He was referred to the Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust’s Military Veterans’ Service. Tony said: “I’d be dead by now if the Military Veterans’ Service hadn’t helped me stop drinking and then helped me deal with my mental health problems. Now I’m well, back on speaking terms with most of my family, helping other veterans as a peer mentor, studying at college and looking to get a paid job.”

Tony is one of four veterans who recently trained as a Community Reporter as part of a pilot, commissioned by NHS England, to explore the barriers that Veterans experience in accessing mental health support.

To access the survey and supporting information, please visit the engage website  The deadline for responses is 5pm on 31 March 2016.

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