Guidance

Mental health support for the UK armed forces

Mental health support and advice facilities for service personnel, reservists, veterans and service families.

The mental health and wellbeing of service personnel, whether regulars or reservists, their families and veterans is a priority for the government.

Serving personnel

For those serving in the armed forces (including mobilised reservists), the MOD has worked hard to improve patient care in the area of mental health. The Defence Medical Services have implemented new interventions and mental health professionals are deployed to the front line.

Stress management is now embedded through the chain of command and mental health awareness is a training and leadership issue in today’s armed forces, we are making a concerted effort to destigmatise issues around mental health and promote awareness of the professional medical care and support available.

The MOD is committed to providing appropriate training at all levels for its service personnel, whether as part of routine career development or as part of an operational deployment. The Stress Management Training Centre coordinates the delivery of such training and each of the three services has its own training delivery team.

Reservists

The Reserves Mental Health Programme, run in partnership with the NHS, is open to all current or former members of the UK Volunteer and Regular Reserves who have been demobilised since 1 January 2003, following operational deployment overseas as a reservist and who believe that their deployment may have affected their mental health.

Service families and veterans

In the UK, the NHS is responsible for delivering healthcare for the families of those serving and veterans. Mental healthcare is a multi-agency delivery effort and the MOD and UK Departments of Health are working with the NHS and service charities, including Combat Stress, to promote awareness of veterans’ and service family issues.

The Defence Medical Services provide healthcare services to families who accompany their serving family member when posted to our major bases overseas.

Armed Forces Covenant and mental health

The Armed Forces Covenant states that the armed forces community should enjoy the same standard of, and access to, healthcare as that received by any other UK citizen in the area they live.

MOD has published information leaflets aimed at veterans, serving personnel and their families outlining how the Covenant can help them. If members of our armed forces community feel they have been disadvantaged accessing public services these leaflets will help to identify where to go to address the problem.

Fighting fit: a mental health plan for servicemen and veterans

The government commissioned Dr Andrew Murrison MP to look in particular at the support for service personnel and veterans who may suffer from mental health problems due to service. The MOD is working closely with the Department of Health to take forward the recommendations in Dr Andrew Murrison’s report, ‘Fighting fit’, which was published in November 2010.

Key recommendations

To employ the equivalent of 30 mental health professionals with a remit to ensure that veterans are able to access mental health care. This is being delivered via the setup of regional mental health services dedicated to the care of veterans with mental health problems.

10 armed forces networks have been established across England in the existing Strategic Health Authority Areas, and the NHS and Combat Stress are working together in each of these areas to develop services for veterans with mental health problems.

The south west veterans’ mental health service and Pennine Care Military Veterans’ service in the north west are up and running and will manage cases referred by embedded mental health professionals, GPs or other agencies. The other areas will come on stream this year. In March 2011 Combat Stress and Rethink set up a 24 hour helpline offering help and support on a wide range of issues, health-related and otherwise; to launch an elearning package to help GPs understand the needs of the military, their families and veterans.

Getting advice or help urgently

Serving personnel

Help is out there for serving personnel:

  • your first point of call should be your chain of command, unit medical officer, welfare officer or chaplain if you are in the UK or overseas. They are there to help and offer the best advice. Contact numbers for medical out of hours support are available through your medical centre

  • in an emergency you should contact your local medical officer. If your local medical officer is unavailable and you are in England, Scotland or Wales contact your local NHS accident and emergency (A&E) unit. In Northern Ireland, Medical Reception Station Aldergrove operates 24/7 telephone manning with access to appropriate specialists

  • additionally, Combat Stress/Rethink offer a 24 hour freephone helpline if you have concerns about your mental health. The number to call is 0800 138 1619. They provide emotional support, a listening ear and signposting service

  • Big White Wall is an online early intervention service for people experiencing emotional distress. It offers anonymous support 24/7 through a trial for serving personnel, veterans and their families. The service combines social networking principles with a choice of clinically informed interventions to improve self management of mental wellbeing

  • Big White Wall is continually staffed by Wall Guides and has access to senior clinicians from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust 24/7. Big White Wall is currently a trial for serving personnel, veterans and their families and an evaluation of the trial will take place in due course. Visit: Big White Wall website

Reservists

There are specific mental health services for reservists:

  • if currently mobilised, talk to your chain of command, unit medical officer, welfare officer or chaplain

  • if previously mobilised, talk to your NHS GP or the Veterans and Reserves’ Mental Health Programme. The freephone number to call is 0800 032 6258

  • additionally, Combat Stress/Rethink offer a 24 hour freephone helpline if you have concerns about your mental health: Freephone: 0800 138 1619. They provide emotional support, a listening ear and signposting service

  • Big White Wall is an online early intervention service for people experiencing emotional distress. It offers anonymous support 24/7 through a trial for serving personnel, veterans and their families. The service combines social networking principles with a choice of clinically informed interventions to improve self management of mental wellbeing. Big White Wall is continually staffed by Wall Guides and has access to senior clinicians from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust 24/7

Veterans

There are mental health services aimed at veterans:

  • the Veterans UK provides a Freephone helpline: 0808 1914 2 18

  • combat Stress and Rethink run a Freephone 24 hour helpline for veterans who have concerns about their mental health. The number to call is 0800 138 1619

  • your NHS GP can refer you to a number of services

  • the Veterans and Reserves’ Mental Health Programme (formerly the Medical Assessment Programme or MAP) is also available for veterans. Referrals from your GP are preferred but self-referrals are accepted. Freephone: 0800 032 6258

  • Big White Wall is an online early intervention service for people experiencing emotional distress. It offers anonymous support 24/7 through a trial for serving personnel, veterans and their families. The service combines social networking principles with a choice of clinically informed interventions to improve self management of mental wellbeing. Big White Wall is continually staffed by Wall Guides and has access to senior clinicians from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust 24/7

Devolved administrations:

  • in Wales, Veterans Wales can be called on 029 2074 2062 (Mon-Fri 8.00-3.30pm). The Welsh Government also funds the free phone 24 hour Mental Health Community Advice Listening Line (CALL) which is available to veterans. Call on the toll-free number 0800 132 737

  • in Northern Ireland, veterans can use the Aftercare Service on telephone: 028 9042 0266

  • in Scotland, Veterans First Point (for Lothian only) is available on telephone: 0131 220 9920

Service families

If you have a concern about the mental health of a family member who is a serving regular, reservist or veteran:

  • use the appropriate contacts set out above
  • talk to your NHS GP
  • access support from Big White Wall

Big White Wall is an online early intervention service for people experiencing emotional distress. It offers anonymous support 24/7 through a trial for serving personnel, veterans and their families. The service combines social networking principles with a choice of clinically informed interventions to improve self management of mental wellbeing. Big White Wall is continually staffed by Wall Guides and has access to senior clinicians from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust 24/7.

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