My Interview with Andrew Graham from Combat Stress for the UK Security Expo
Combat Stress is very much looking forward to our relationship with the UK Security Expo as we recognise the importance of the security industry to many veterans. We want to understand more about it and let the industry know more about us and how we can help.
Combat Stress was formed in 1919 by a group of women who felt that closing existing military hospitals and simply launching the patients on a society coming to terms with its post-war self, shouldn’t happen.
There were many former servicemen with obvious physical wounds and many more with the hidden wounds of battle shock, shellshock and many of the conditions we are now becoming more familiar with. Combat Stress has been here for almost a century and has changed a lot over the years, as has society’s understanding and tolerance of mental health issues.
As a society, we are more empathetic to the idea that sustained periods of stress or significant events of trauma have an effect on the mind. This, of course, doesn’t have to be combat, it could be continued, sustained stress or pressure over a long term, or something which happens to you while you’re not on operations.
The Ministry of Defence is better today at taking steps to understand mental health issues caused by service. It is a difficult thing to deal with and part of the issue very often is that even after the immediate protocols have been followed with an individual and you think the issues have been dealt with, it can come back a number of years later.
Our charity routinely finds that on average veterans wait 12 years after leaving the military before coming to us for help. The services are generally an environment where they keep their feelings suppressed and it is often when service leavers get out in the civilian world that symptoms start to appear. It is vitally important that everyone realises that an illness of the mind is not something to be held against you but a real condition, many of us will experience a mental health problem and it is treatable!
Through Contact, a military mental health coalition, we are working with other charities and the NHS. We had almost 2,500 new referrals last year and the NHS probably had 20,000 ex-servicemen come into care in some way; we could be dismissed as a drop in the bucket, but for the veterans who come to us for support, what we provide matters hugely. There may be very good reasons why they came to us instead of the NHS and it could be as simple as they feel safer as our touchpoints are seen as relating back to their military service.
A great help has been the emphasis Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have placed on encouraging the country to talk more openly about mental health issues. Through their Royal Foundation, they are showing how the stigma of saying, ‘I need some help’ is reducing. Our own data shows that we are finding young men and women are coming to us much earlier, which is better for them and their families.
A lot of former service personnel go out into the wider security industry when they leave the service because it feels comfortable for them and the security industry recognises the wider skills and work ethic that they bring. Those skills can be a huge advantage.
We recognise some of the pressures former service personnel face and being a mental health charity that is what we focus on. However, we also recognise what an asset veterans are to the workplace and we want employers to recognise the wealth of skills and experience veterans can offer. Every year we run a free conference in the City of London called “The Military Mind,” which gives employers an insight into veterans’ mental health needs and how with the right support they can be valuable employees.
With the UK Security Expo, I want to further the message that servicemen and women are remarkable people. It’s vital that we improve awareness of mental health to encourage veterans to come forward for help. Left untreated mental health conditions can become debilitating, yet many people delay seeking treatment due to the stigma. Combat Stress is here to help veterans overcome mental health problems and lead full and liberated lives. We welcome employers working with us to increase awareness.
Many aspects of the security industry operate under high pressure. Whilst the industry employs a lot of former service personnel, even those who didn’t serve in the military will have stresses and strains that affect how they behave, either now or in the future. Our experience of helping former service personnel could assist employers more widely.
I would encourage people to pay attention to the real contribution former service people can make, not just by virtue of their skills, but by the way in which they think, act, and behave. Recognise that we all, whether we have served or not, could suffer some form of mental illness and we must continue to work hard to dispel myths around mental illness and any associated stigma. You may feel like supporting a charity like ours and we would appreciate that.
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