04 August 2008

Welfare and warfare: an uneasy mix

Colchester Campus

Young soldiers and service personnel facing multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan need greater mental health support, a study by the University of Essex has concluded.

Researchers from the Department of Health and Human Sciences interviewed 23 ex-service personnel to develop an in-depth insight into the problems and emotional distress associated with military life.

The study’s authors highlight the need for culture change in the military and the further development of support services and training to help address the unmet mental health need they identified among the ex-servicemen and women.

The researchers also found ex-service personnel experienced significant problems including social isolation and difficulties with housing, employment and relationships after discharge from the military. They recommend improved access to emotional and psychological support to facilitate the transition from military to civilian life and to tackle long-term mental health problems.

The report ‘Welfare and warfare…an uneasy mix’ by Professor Gill Green, Dan O’Neill and Steven Walker is published online today at: http://www.essex.ac.uk/hhs/research/projects.htm

Funded by the Indigo Trust, the team set out to find the views of ex-service personnel themselves about their mental health needs and the accessibility and helpfulness of the support available. In addition to former soldiers who joined the army between the ages of 16 and 26, and one former sailor, they interviewed family members and welfare staff representatives from organisations supporting ex-military personnel.

They found many young soldiers come from chaotic and disadvantaged backgrounds and are vulnerable to emotional and mental health problems as they make the transition to adulthood in a military environment. Stress factors included combat stress, separation from family, and bullying. However, despite some reporting bullying, those ex-soldiers who had enlisted more recently spoke positively of their experiences in basic training, which the authors felt may indicate that attitudes and practice were changing.

Professor Green said: ‘It’s difficult for the military to organise the waging of warfare at the same time as catering for the welfare of vulnerable young service men and women.

‘While there was general consensus that the best way to support people experiencing emotional distress was to get them to talk about their feelings, there was clearly a stigma associated with poor mental health and a prevalence of macho attitudes which prevented many from admitting to emotional problems.’

The tendency neither to recognise, nor disclose emotional distress, could result in behaviour such as going absent without leave (AWOL), or excessive use of alcohol or drugs, the authors found.

The researchers made seven recommendations to address the mental health issues identified by their interviewees:

● Cultural change to normalise and de-stigmatise emotional distress
● Mandatory training for service personnel in developing strategies to cope with managing stress
● Availability of more trained counsellors and greater emphasis on ‘decompression’ following deployments
● A more systematic approach to emotional distress including training for commanders
● Greater confidentiality surrounding mental health problems
● Zero tolerance for bullying, and more training for officers and NCOs in this area
●Improved access to mental health support for ex-service personnel.


Note to editors

1. The report is available online at: http://www.essex.ac.uk/hhs/research/Projects/Ex-soldiers/Emotional%20and%20mental%20health%20needs%20of%20young%20ex-military%20personnel.html

2. Interviews with 23 ex-military personnel, three welfare staff representatives and six family members of ex-service personnel were carried out between December 2006 and October 2007. The ex-service personnel included two women and four respondents from ethnic minority groups.

3. For further information, or to interview lead author Professor Gill Green, please contact Jenny Grinter in the University Communications Office on 01206 872400, e-mail: comms@essex.ac.uk.


For further information please contact the University of Essex communications office on 01206 874377 or e-mail comms@essex.ac.uk.

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