Mental Health

Part of Backbench Business — [1st Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:21 pm on 14th June 2012.

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Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Conservative, Mole Valley 4:21 pm, 14th June 2012

As mentioned by several Members, the result can often be imprisonment, yet all these side effects could be avoided. On average, it takes veterans just over 13 years from service discharge to first approach Combat Stress. This is an ongoing issue for veterans.

Community outreach teams across the country now provide much support for veterans. They provide support and advice in veterans’ own homes and nearby community-based clinical care. Yesterday, we made much of the Falklands war, which ended 30 years ago today, on 14 June 1982. Of the 4,800 veterans Combat Stress is helping, 221 served in the Falklands war. The youngest is 46 and the oldest is 74, and on average the Falklands veterans have waited 15 years before going for help. Last year, 18 Falklands veterans contacted Combat Stress for the first time, and this year, to date, 10 have contacted it. But of course the case load is not just from the Falklands. Of the 4,800 ex-service men and women being treated, 589 served in Iraq and 228 served in Afghanistan. Between 1 April 2010 and 31 March 2011, Combat Stress received 1,443 new referrals.

Having set the scene, I shall touch on a few key points for the Minister to consider. First, all the UK Governments must acknowledge the ongoing need. Most of the Governments contribute considerably towards Combat Stress and its costs. Combat Stress estimates that in 2012, 960 service personnel will leave the armed forces with the likelihood of suffering from PTSD. I shall follow up a point made by the hon. Member for Strangford. We must persuade the MOD to look specifically at their decompressing veterans-to-be and, if there is any suspicion, to refer them to Combat Stress. It would make treatment by Combat Stress easier, because it would be given earlier, and all the pain and suffering of these men and women could be reduced to a tiny fraction of what it is for many of those in Combat Stress now.

That brings me to the crux of the problem, which has been touched on. Because mental illness is not a physical but a mental wound, a stigma is attached to it. A lot of Members have mentioned that. Combat Stress tells me that 81% of veterans with a mental illness feel ashamed or embarrassed, which often prevents them from seeking help—it certainly delays them seeking help—and sadly one in three veterans are too ashamed of their condition ever to tell their families about it. As a result, many of those families break up. Among the other side effects are crime, disorder and alcoholism. This is a mental health problem, then, that could and should be alleviated early.

Much has been done to raise the profile of the condition and the availability of help, so that those individuals do not feel that they are unique or, perhaps, weak. Much needs to be done to encourage them and their families to seek assistance. We need to put these valuable individuals back on their feet—and they are valuable: they have already performed valuable service, and there is still valuable service available if we can do that. Amazingly, there appears to be a considerable lack of understanding among GPs. Research conducted in September 2011 showed that only 5% of the veterans receiving help from Combat Stress had been referred by their GP. Perhaps those GPs failed to recognise the condition or were unaware of the existence of Combat Stress—or, more likely, both. I urge the Minister to ensure that the word is spread among our GPs. Combat Stress has done a clinical audit, and it would appear that approximately 80% of the veterans who come to it for clinical treatment tried to get help from their GPs or other specialist services first, and did not get it. Appallingly, that support and treatment was not forthcoming. It should be.

I hope that the Minister will consider joining me in a visit to Combat Stress, to see the value of the work first hand, to understand its difficulties and to help to build on the opportunity to prevent some of the tragedies that we see. We need to remember that for those veterans the physical war is over, but the battle is still raging in their heads.