There can’t be many professions that combine high levels of stress, skill and exceptional levels of danger to a greater extent than the armed forces.
But these are not necessarily auspicious times for the military. In recent times we have seen two dangerous campaigns, in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have led to a tragically substantial loss of life – and the two wars have not met with, shall we say, universal approval from the public.
There are regular reports from insiders that there are not enough bodies to man our dwindling fleet of ships properly, and that a lot of the equipment available to this diminished manpower is not up to scratch. All in all, it’s a toxic mix.
And so it’s sadly not surprising to report today that more and more personnel from across the services are seeking help for mental health problems.
Now in some ways this could be spun as a good thing, that a previously ‘macho’ walk of life accepts the fact that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed about – in effect, rising numbers could mean that more are seeking help, not that more are suffering.
However, the people we spoke to while researching this story were more inclined to believe that this is a growing problem – and that there is not enough help available.
We must be careful not to tar veterans all with the same brush. We must not assume that everyone who served has had a bad experience, nor that they will therefore have some kind of mental trauma to deal with. Thousands and thousands are healthy and happy.
But we must do more to make sure that nobody falls through the net. The words of a wife of a man who was medically discharged three years ago after a breakdown ring a sad – and worrying – note: ‘The victim remains the victim rather than having the support to overcome their issues.’
As well as a moral issue – those who risk their life should be looked after – it makes financial sense. Spend money dealing with issues early on and bills for the fallout from addiction, homelessness and other social problems could be lessened. But rather than being about the bottom line here, it’s a case of doing the right thing.