One in eight service members sought help for mental health issues in 2021, new figures show

Reservists in Scotland during OBUA training (Photo: Crown Copyright).

One in eight members of the Armed Forces sought help from military health services for mental health-related reasons last year, according to figures released by the Department of Defense.

The new figures show a return to pre-COVID pandemic levels – there was a drop in the number of staff seeking help for mental health-related issues during lockdown in 2020.

The Defense says this could potentially be because the lockdown has led to a reduction in military activity, in turn reducing some of the stresses often associated with living in Armed Forces life, such as being away from loved ones and the risk of injury or death at work.

The Ministry of Defense (MOD) says the rate of people requiring more specialized mental health treatment in the armed forces was one in 43, which is lower than that of the general civilian population.

Overall, women were more likely than men to seek help, reflecting trends within the general population.

The MOD has now released a new wellness strategy following the release of the statistics, which aims to ensure that all defenders are in a state of “positive physical, mental and social health and wellbeing”.

The Defense People Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2022-2027, released in June, states that the strategic objective moving forward is to “create, promote and sustain the conditions that enable Defense people – military and civilian – to live healthy lifestyles in healthy environments”.

Adding that to maximize employability and well-being, the MOD must reduce injuries, illnesses and suicides as much as possible and “improve our attitudes and our culture” with regard to the way the defense tackles mental health.

The MOD says that while looking after the physical and mental health of serving personnel benefits the defence, it recognizes that “the changing nature of operations and the demanding working and living conditions can compromise the health and well- be”.

“Added to this is the inherently dangerous and physical nature of some defense works,” he added.

People’s Leader of Defense Lt. Gen. James Swift and Director General of Defense Medical Services Peter Homa said in a joint statement that “the health and well-being of our people is something which is close to our hearts”.

The statement adds: “By supporting it, we enable our employees to reach their full potential, maximize their talent and productivity, and thereby optimize operational efficiency.

“We both want and need our people to be the best possible version of themselves and to thrive because they’re part of the defence; it’s both better for them and better for the defense. .”

The plan set out in the strategy is for MOD to take a different attitude to educate and empower people to live healthy lives in healthy environments.

Lieutenant General James Swift and Dr Peter Homa said: “We will formally take a proven, holistic approach to health and wellbeing and no longer have a separate mental health strategy.

“Instead, we will consider physical, mental and social health and well-being as a whole and recognize the critical influences of lifestyle and environment, not just human factors.”

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