High numbers of veterans have expressed suicidal thoughts when contacting the Samaritans, according to figures gathered by the charity.
The lifeline service found that former personnel are almost twice as likely to report ‘suicidal ideation’ compared with the general population.
A particular at-risk group is ‘early service leavers’ – those who leave involuntarily, usually within six years – under the age of 24.
The leading suicide prevention charity is launching a free, dedicated app today designed to help veterans with the long-term emotional challenges of moving from service to civilian life.
Ben Phillips, a former officer in the Royal Artillery who served in Afghanistan, has experience of working with young recruits and soldiers experiencing emotional and well-being issues when leaving the armed forces.
The 36-year-old, from south London, is now head of service programmes at the Samaritans and helping to break down what can be a ‘mental barrier’ preventing veterans from seeking help.
‘The reports of suicidal ideation are about twice as much as the general population,’ he said.
‘We don’t have a firm understanding of why that is. I can only speculate that they come from a culture where violence is seen as a more feasible solution to jump to more quickly than civilians do or perhaps it’s around emotional articulation and not being able to talk about their problems as easily.’
The Samaritans Veterans’ App will complement the charity’s phone lines, which run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
With the figures showing that 40% of veterans seeking help have expressed suicidal ideation, where someone has thoughts about ending their life, the tool is designed to provide support before they reach that level of crisis.
Based on research by the Samaritans and the Royal British Legion, the portal has emotional health and wellbeing information, exercises, podcasts, ways to connect with the veteran community and videos of those who have made the transition reflecting on their journeys.
‘The app is more about self-help,’ Ben said. ‘I would encourage anyone leaving the services to take a look at how they prepare themselves for that emotional transition after the Armed Forces.
‘It’s much the same as they would prepare themselves in a practical way for the transition with employment and accommodation.
‘It’s much more focussed on bringing together case studies and stories of people who have made that move with well-being and resilience tools to have that smooth and orderly transition and hopefully not having to use our services later on.’
Suicide rates among serving personnel are lower than in the general population, according to the Samaritans.
However, those leaving the military face losing their ‘sense of purpose’, making them vulnerable to issues including PTSD, anxiety and distress – conditions which were highlighted by Metro.co.uk during Mental Health Awareness Week in May.
in April 2020, the first full month of the pandemic lockdown, the charity recorded the largest volume of military contacts since it began to keep records from the military community in 2018. Of these, 79% were veterans.
The app is being launched at a time when the military is front of mind, with the unfolding aftermath of the drawdown by the UK and US in Afghanistan and the run-up to Remembrance Day on Thursday, November 11.
Ben told Metro.co.uk that the team bonds in the military can be replaced in civilian life.
‘Culturally, there’s a sense that if you’re serving personnel you’re seen as somebody who protects and defends others and is somebody who’s strong and protects the weak,’ he said.
‘There can sometimes be a sense that if you seek help you’re deemed weak but that’s not the case at all. That can sometimes be a mental barrier, they pride themselves so much on their own independence and resilience it can make it hard for them to admit when they need help.
‘At the same time, they’re also used to being part of a team and the strength of resilience of being part of a team cannot be underestimated.
‘But even after they leave the forces, there’s still places they can reach out to for that support.’
TV personality JJ Chalmers, a former Lance Corporal in the Royal Marines and also an Afghanistan veteran, is among those who have had to rebuild their lives outside of their immediate military family.
The athlete and former Strictly star said: ‘Life in the Armed Forces can be very challenging, and people who have recently left active service are particularly likely to struggle after losing that structure, camaraderie and sense of purpose.
‘We all have mental health, and we should actively choose to maintain it, rather than dealing with it as a last resort. Anything that helps provide support is invaluable.
‘The Samaritans Veterans’ App is a great tool to help keep track of your wellbeing and includes useful resources if you are having a difficult time.’
To access the app click here
To contact the Samaritans call 116 123 for free or click here
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This year, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Metro.co.uk has invited eight well-known mental health advocates to take over our site.
With a brilliant team that includes Alex Beresford, Russell Kane, Frankie Bridge, Anton Ferdinand, Sam Thompson, Scarlett Moffatt, Katie Piper and Joe Tracini, each of our guest editors have worked closely with us to share their own stories, and also educate, support and engage with our readers.
If you need help or advice for any mental health matter, here are just some of the organisations that were vital in helping us put together our MHAW Takeover:
To contact any of the charities mentioned in the Metro.co.uk MHAW Takeover click here
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