World Mental Health Day: creating hope through action

This World Mental Health Day it’s time to have a conversation about suicide prevention. With more veterans dying by suicide than combat since 1984, knowing the warning signs and how you can help could save someone’s life. 

Working for the military can be incredibly rewarding, but it also puts servicemen and women under pressure they would not encounter in other jobs. The nature of the role and the trauma personnel face can cause them to develop mental health conditions that can have devastating consequences. 

Poignant figures from Action on Armed Violence found that more veterans have died from suicide than in combat since 1984. The Ministry of Defence and NHS England found that younger veterans and those who left after a shorter career were most at risk.

This year military charities and organisations have been campaigning to raise awareness of the warning signs, services and support available for struggling personnel. 

How can I get help?

If you’re a service leaver or are enrolled in the army, it’s important to ask for help if you’re struggling with your mental health. Your friends, family and military unit will be able to support you through this tough time and help you to access health services for treatment. There is no wrong way to ask for help, but you must take the first steps. 

If you’re a service leaver, you can start by contacting your GP and arranging an appointment to discuss how you’re feeling. They will be able to prescribe medication and refer you to the appropriate services in your area. If you’re in the army, you can speak to a medical officer or your chain of command who can help you access support.

There are many services and facilities available that military men and women can access before they reach a crisis point. Combat Stress has a 24-hour helpline that provides veterans and their families with confidential support and advice. You can call the helpline on 0800 138 1619, text 07537 173683 (although standard charges may apply) or email [email protected]. 

In the event of a crisis situation, Samaritans have a free 24-hour helpline that military personnel can call if they’re feeling suicidal on 116 123. You can also call 999 for immediate support in case of an emergency. 

What can I do to help someone I love?

The first thing you can do to help a loved one is to know the signs of someone who might be struggling. 

Research from Combat Stress, a military charity focusing on the mental health of the army, found that veterans who were unemployed, had left the service early, had a history of childhood problems or took less than five years to ask for help, had a higher chance of experiencing suicidal thoughts.  

The charity also identified the following areas as reasons for concern that could cause someone to feel suicidal:

  • Unresolved trauma
  • Isolation
  • Losing a comrade, friend or someone they love
  • Relationship problems
  • Being injured or unwell
  • Financial anxiety
  • Legal trouble

Suicide warning signs

Whilst there is no typical pattern or behaviour of someone who is suicidal, there are signs to be aware of that could indicate someone is feeling suicidal. 

These common warning signs include:

  • An abnormal change in their behaviour 
  • Feeling like everyone and the world is against them
  • Becoming lethargic and struggling to get through the day 
  • Drinking more or starting to drink on their own
  • Making negative comments
  • Talking about wanting to die or death
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no way out of their problems
  • Saying they feel empty
  • Mentioning guilt or shame
  • Becoming a recluse or withdrawing from social activities and socialising
  • Saying goodbye to the people they love
  • Giving away sentimental items
  • Becoming angry or being more aggressive
  • Becoming calm or happy after previously struggling with depression 
  • Substance abuse or increased abuse
  • Mood swings
  • A change in their sleeping patterns
  • Stockpiling medication
  • Distancing themselves from their loved ones
  • A loss of interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Unexplained physical pain could be a cry for help

If there is an immediate risk, call 999

If someone you love is displaying the behaviours above, it’s important to listen to them patiently and express your care or concern. Try not to leave them alone, and if you believe there is an immediate risk, take them to the nearest A&E or call 999. 

If they’re active in the military, get in touch with someone in their chain of command who can check in on them, alert medical staff and get them professional help.

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