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Huge Spike In Afghanistan Veterans Seeking Mental Health Help

Mental Health

Amid the continuing horrors in Kabul, another issue is coming to light: that of the triggering effects on veterans....

Since news and footage of the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan has hit over the last couple of weeks, calls to Combat Stress’ helpline have doubled. The chief executive of the veterans charity, Jeff Harrison, told the BBC that events in Afghanistan has been a major trigger for many former soldiers: “every time you turn on the television and every time you pick up a newspaper, Afghanistan is what you see, for those veterans it’s just restarting those memories for them again, so that causes a problem.”

Harrison also added that the issue was two-fold. Firstly, it brought back those memories of trauma which undid many of the methods used to treat and cope with PTSD. But there was also the fact that all that work and suffering in helping the people of that country, had seemingly counted for nothing: “While they were there, they knew they were doing something that was really worthwhile – they were helping out a country, they were keeping the rest of the world safe, they were doing everything that was asked of them. They knew that it was a moral cause they were there for, and it was an ethical cause. And they look now at what’s happening, about people just pulling out effectively overnight, and they just wonder what it was all for, was it just a futile effort.”

A number of MPs have raised the issue, calling for urgent support from the government, including MP Tom Tugendhat, who served in Afghanistan and described veterans’ “anger, grief and rage,” whilst promising Health Secretary Sajid Javid had made a commitment to do more for them.

This follows a tough year for Combat Stress, who had to scale back their work in 2020 after funding problems. You can find out more about them, and ways to help with funds, here.

Several other organisations are stepping in to help out with the issue, including Simplyhealth, which is offering free mental health counselling and 24/7 video GP services to veterans.

Experts have said that PTSD can affect up to 40% of forces members. Such is the issue, that in the States, since 2005 more veterans have died by suicide than in combat over the last 30 years. The number of military deaths by suicide jumped 25% from 2019 to 2020. In the same period, 82 veterans killed themselves in the UK and the MoD reported that the suicide rate among men in the forces had started to rise for the first time since the 90s.

As events in Afghanistan continue to develop on the ground, there are growing calls for a change in approach, where complimentary action needs to be taken to help those soldiers and ex-soldiers directly and indirectly suffering mental health problems.

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