Leadership is about doing, not saying.

Leadership is about doing, not saying.

Leadership is about doing, not saying. It is time with regard to Mental Health training and awareness, for senior leaders to ‘walk the walk and not just talk the talk.’

There was a slight nervousness in the faces of General Sir Nick Carter, Admiral Tony Radakin, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith and Air Chief Marshall Sir Mike Wigston, collectively known in defence as ‘The Chiefs’ in a video they released collectively to mark World Mental Health day on Saturday 10th October.

“During these important times it’s more important than ever that we take notice of our mental wellbeing and that of our colleagues, our friends and our family and particularly those we lead,” said Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff, opening the video.

“Since the publication of the Armed Forces Mental Health Strategy 2011, the mental health and wellbeing of our Defence People has been a subject of substantial investment and focus. The next five years will see a period of sustained focus on mental health and wellbeing. We need to engage everyone in Defence, at all levels, if we are to maintain a mentally healthy population,” said Lieutenant General Richard Nugee, then Chief of Defence People, in his foreword to The Defence People Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2017-2022.

So, do the senior leaders in Defence lead by example when it comes to Mental Health, we are 3 years into the 5 year strategy building on the 2011 foundation?  This is a very difficult question to get a tangible answer to as, despite their underlying nervousness, ‘The Chiefs’ were advancing a more positive mental health message in their video, which is good. They were talking the talk.

Not being satisfied with the substance behind some of the MoDs ‘talk’ a little digging was done.  That digging found out that, “The MoD does not mandate any formal recorded Mental Health training for Senior Officers.”

That is fine in itself as the Armed Forces Mental Health Strategy was published in 2011 giving a long time to get training in place and develop a culture of it being “must do” for leaders, as that is setting an example. After all the Australian Navy says, “Leaders acknowledge the moral equality of all who serve and build a climate of mutual respect.” That is simply leading by example and the training exists in various guises.

In addition, our senior leaders have a command function and that is a legal function, requiring set, auditable standards to ensure consistency and fairness in their judgements. They, in various guises, are the ultimate arbiters with complaints, they set the moral policy across defence and rule on areas where they feel it has been broken. You can’t do that on ad hoc knowledge.

So, what is the reality of how the senior leadership of all three services approach the example they set to mental health awareness and training. It is recognised there is a lot of mental health awareness briefing going on across defence, but given ‘Command’ has a legal status, ad hoc briefing isn’t good enough.

According to ‘The Chiefs’ and the Armed Forces Mental Health Strategy, mental health is engaging everyone and is getting substantial investment; therefore, formal training is critical to ensure the foundation for that legal status Command empowers so that it is consistent and auditable.

Armed with positivity from the Chiefs talking the talk, the MoD was asked about formal mental health training in the senior officer cohort, so RN Captain, Army Colonel and RAF Group Captain (OF5) and above. These ranks and above are those in the most senior command positions, those that should set examples to their subordinates across defence.

The statistics speak for themselves, OF 5 is Captain (RN), Colonel, Group Captain and they go up from there so in Army parlance, OF 6 is Brigadier, OF 7 Major General and on:

Rank  Number of Officers            Number MH Trained          Percentage

RN (including RM)

OF9                2                                  0                                              0%

OP8                7                                  0                                              0%

OF7                32                                4                                              12.5%

OF6                85                                9                                              10.6%

OF5                297                             2                                              0.67%

Total:             423                             15                                            3.55%


OF9                4                                  0                                              0%

OP8                16                                2                                              12.5%

OF7                42                                3                                              7.1%

OF6    Brig     147                             14                                            9.5%

OF5    Col      517                             3                                              0.58%

Total:             726                             22                                            3.03%


OF9                3                                  0                                              0%

OP8                6                                  0                                              0%

OF7                28                                0                                              0%

OF6                83                                4                                              4.82%

OF5                286                             1                                              0.35%

Total:              406                             5                                              1.23%

What makes the statistics worse if that could be possible, is that none of ‘The Chiefs,’ the Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral of the Fleet, Chief of the General Staff or Chief of the Air Staff have completed any recorded training course and only seven 2 star (OF7) officers in ‘Command Positions’ across defence have done so, none in the RAF. Is this leadership by example?  It is clear that our senior leaders in uniform and worse, those in command positions, do not walk the walk.

Karen McLeish whose teenage son Alistair was found hanged in a bathroom at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, told Mark Nicol of the Mail on Sunday, ‘This is a shocking disclosure. The MoD constantly says it is committed to soldiers’ mental health. Yet how can they be when so few officers are trained in this area and when the course is voluntary? This is the wrong attitude; the MoD must properly accept its responsibilities otherwise troops will continue to suffer in silence until it is too late to help them.’

Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee said to mark Nicol of the MoD figures: ‘It is sad to see an important initiative, not being welcomed by the officer class. Their absence and non-participation is concerning given the genuine efforts the imbalance in support for mental versus physical health.’

In essence, actions speak louder than words, is what the first African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Colin Powell, said of leaders when he uttered the words, “The most important thing I learned is that soldiers watch what their leaders do. You can give them classes and lecture them forever, but it is your personal example they will follow.”  Is this leadership by example?

The gauntlet has been thrown down, how many more lives must be destroyed or lost before the senior officer cohort in Defence stop talking the talk and actually walk the walk? When will command recognise the need for moral leadership, leadership by example? When will defence recognise the need for consistent auditable activity in its people sphere?

I personally had a senior officer record in interview notes after interviewing me, “I wish to formally record my concern for the welfare and wellbeing of this officer,” and he then did nothing but watch my life fall apart over the next few years. He took great delight in highlighting to his bosses that he showed concern by noting his concerns, he talked the talk, but his inaction in looking after me or even talking to me and telling me of those concerns, demonstrated he didn’t walk the walk. Defence tried every trick in the book to stop me getting a copy of his interview notes, they failed, so, yes, it is personal!

If the Chiefs say, “People are our most important asset,” yet this is the example they set, how can they be trusted with less important issues such as equipment capabilities as are being debated as part of the Integrated Defence and Security Review. Where does the responsibility ‘buck’ stop?

{All answers were provided by the MoD under a FOIA request that asked about any and all formal MH training. The MoD provided all of the answers and were approached by the MoS for comment, providing only a holding reply, they won’t talk to Philip Ingram as he is on Defences naughty step.}


Philip Ingram MBE is a PTSD survivor no thanks to the MoD; he is available for comment please just visit the Contact Us page for details.





My Interview with Andrew Graham from Combat Stress for the UK Security Expo

My Interview with Andrew Graham from Combat Stress for the UK Security Expo

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.

Visit the UK Security Expo 2018 and get access to so much high-quality free content by clicking here: www.uksecurityexpo.com/freepasses