Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Don't employ a veteran - he could suffer from PTSD

Why is it that, at the moment, whenever our troops are mentioned, it is in the context of PTSD - even in a recent BBC special about Northern Ireland.

Don't get me wrong - PTSD exists. It's real. Research might even have been able to link it so specific patterns in brain activity that are out of balance. We send our troops to some pretty nasty places and, despite the best of preparation, sometimes situations occur with which some of them can't cope. The same goes for our police force, ambulance staff, firefighters. Most of the time, our troops are not in combat - and life in the barracks can actually be pretty boring.

Yes, they deserve our respect and our understanding. It is hard to believe that there are still veterans who, after decades of suffering, have not been given a diagnosis. And those who have are quite often prescribed a whole cocktail of medication which is disabling in itself. But there is a dangerous downside to the current media coverage: it adds to a negative stereotype. First they were just uneducated, violent and potential addicts; now they are ill and need looking after. What they are not is normal human beings, like you and I.

Statistically, one in four troops returning from combat zones will develop symptoms of PTSD.
Also statistically, one in four in the general population will develop mental health symptoms at some stage in their lives.

I have seen the stage play "The Two Worlds of Charlie F.". And I have also just seen the film adaptation of "Sunshine over Leath".  The first was mesmerizing, extraordinarily well acted. (By that I mean that it was what I expected after all the many conversations I have had with people who had come extremely close to similar events. Obviously, I have never seen anything like it myself.) The latter was actually much more useful - two young soldiers who had just left the Army. They were struggling with life - but a lot of that was actually independent of their time in the Army.

They are among us. And most of them are actually pretty normal. Yes, they sometimes struggle - but for different reasons. They might not understand the hidden rules in civilian organisations. They might expect actions to be carried out. They will be irritated if after three meetings it is still not clear what ought to be achieved. But they can adjust. Having been made redundant might actually prove a much bigger trauma than a few months in a "hostile environment".

What they struggle with the most is our stereotypes and prejudices! Headlines like "Homecoming Horrors" in today's Shortlist certainly don't help.


  1. Some nice wriiten pieces, this one made me chuckle a little. I spent 23 in the Army, did alot, saw alot, it was an 'I wore the tshirt' kind of career.
    I have been out of the Army for almost 6 years now and collegues dont take long to work out my past credentials, I am then posed the usual questions, at least once a fortnight in those 6 years.
    Have you got PTSD?
    How long did it take to become normal?
    So you were in the Army but you never shout at anyone, why?
    How can you be an Engineer you were in the Army!


  2. Thank you, Mick. I was so angry when I wrote it - I'm used by now to guys like you chuckle when I get all upset ... (And I'm smiling now.)

    Of course people will figure out your background - but then it's only stereotypes. It's not as if there wasn't enough information out there nowadays. People just don't want to know. Not really. And the media at the moment aren't helping either.

  3. Sabine,
    I couldn't agree with you more. There is so much in the press and therefore in the general populous' minds that you would think that every solider (and Officer) is a phsycological disaster area. We both know this is far from the truth. The motivation behind production of such journalism is laudable but sadly we are in a position where the bad news is 'selling papers'. The press need to focus on the good news stories a little more in my view.
    I have no idea how current you are with current MoD policy on such issues so please forgive any patronisation, all unintentional. I am the Army Transition Officer for Wales (every region has one). We have ben in post now for 2 years and are charged with trying to coordinate the activities of organisations who support service leavers (amongst other things). You will likely find that your views are mirrored by most on the inside and all the Transition Officers certainly. You may have seen the BBC programme about Healing the Wounds recently here in Wales. Sadly the over exposure of mental health issues has spawned a growing number of charities which range from well intentioned but poorly executed to those which operate under a thin veneer of altruism exploiting our 'needy'.
    I have to focus on the majority and mental health cases do not fall into that category thankfully. They are dealt with effectively by the Personnel Recovery Units in each region whose sole purpose is to manage health cases through recovery.
    Please get in touch if you would like more info.