“I didn’t feel anything at the time. I couldn’t. I was immersed in the normality of Afghanistan…But it’s when you come home and you’re re-immersed in the different normality of home, the cosiness of home life, that you can remember things differently. And I just remember playing my part in killing an extremely terrified, dying man.”
These are the words of Jake Wood, a 40 year old investment bank analyst who served as a reservist in Afghanistan from April to October 2007. Wood relays the feelings of alienation when a soldier returns to their regular life and must adjust to the starkly contrasting environment. After suffering from “survivors guilt” as well as “killers guilt” Wood underwent years of intensive treatment which he believes prevented possible suicide. This is one of the many cases of mental health amongst war veterans and raises questions of what we can do to help those who self harm in the army.
Recently a government decision to double the number of reservists in the army from approximately 15,000 to 30,000 soldiers threatened to create a wave of mental health problems. Reservists of the Territorial Army hold careers outside of the military and do not work full time, as such they lack the wider mental health support available for full time soldiers. This results in reservists being more vulnerable to mental health issues, most notably Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This can further lead to self harm or suicide as reinforced by the study carried out by King’s Centre for Military Health Research and Academic Centre for Defence Mental Health. In 2012 after carrying out phone interviews with 821 participants 5.6% reported self harm and attempted suicide during their lifetime, more notably following PTSD. These worrying statistics highlight the need for self harm awareness within the military.
Other methods of self harm include alcohol abuse and severe substance addiction, interestingly rising from negative experiences prior to joining the army. These can include a history of abuse, homelessness or unemployment or many other such experiences. Veterans have also admitted to failing to reach out for help due to the social stigma attached to self harm in the army. Army veterans, particularly men, are expected to adhere to the macho image associated with the army. As a result veterans refuse to speak to a GP or specialist out of fear or embarrassment within the establishment. This brings up the common problem for providing help for self harm where individuals refuse to come forward and admit their problems.
It would seem however that more awareness and self harm help is being distributed more recently. A new smartphone app recently released aimed to provide information and help on 11 mental health issues including depression, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress. The app endorsed by the Ministry of Defense aims to dispel myths about mental health and self harm by providing information on where to get help. As such information and support for mental health is becoming readily available online with links to prominent organisations such as Young Minds and Samaritans. Scars received on the battlefield can be mental as well as physical and by increasing awareness of mental health issues amongst the army we can provide the proper treatment to help ease individuals get their life back.