I wrote this in-depth report for ForcesWatch in 2013. It questions the main narrative about veterans’ mental health: that only a small minority are affected by their military employment. Because of the way mental health problems are measured, many veterans who may be harmed by war (and also by their military training) are deemed to be well. It also emphasises that a major contributor to mental health problems can be ethical crises, particularly as experienced by those who are made to kill other people at close quarters.
The report shows why younger recruits, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, tend to be the worst affected. An adverse childhood makes them more vulnerable to trauma later; they are more likely to be in frontline army jobs where traumatic experiences are most frequent; and they are more likely than other personnel to struggle with mental health problems after they leave the forces. It’s a ‘perfect storm’ of greater psychological vulnerability, greater exposure to trauma, and diminished support after leaving.
I’m also grateful to a number of people who advised me along the way, particularly to veterans who took the time to explain why they thought veterans’ mental health was not well understood by the public. Emma Sangster patiently contributed useful questions, proofread the text, and designed the cover.
The report was such a labour that I needed a long lie down afterwards on Brighton beach, when I made a vow, long since broken, never to write a report again.
The report is hosted on the ForcesWatch site, here.