WORKSHOP: CASE STUDY - How war damages your mental health


Background: The Mental Health Foundation wanted to press the Department of Health and the Ministry of Defence to work together to ensure better mental health services for soldiers returning from Iraq.

Around 20 per cent of army personnel returning from conflict risk developing mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, according to the charity.

Aims: The most important goal was for the Government to provide screening of all soldiers serving in Iraq, since early diagnosis can limit problems.

With the MoD's internal mental health services already stretched, the charity also wanted improved specialist 'talking' therapy provided on the NHS.

How it worked: On 27 February, the charity sought to expose the Government's "lack of preparedness" to help an estimated 10,000 of the 43,000 troops sent to Iraq who could suffer psychological trauma.

The charity questioned the ability of the already over-stretched mental health services to deal with the potential problem.

As part of the campaign, the charity positioned the Government and the MoD's inaction against the services provided in the US. American servicemen benefit from early intervention counselling services and the government funds a national centre of post-traumatic stress disorder.

A question was tabled in Parliament to Health Secretary Alan Milburn about what plans he had in place to deal with the well-known side effects of war.

Two weeks before the outbreak of conflict in Iraq, the charity sent letters to the Department of Health and the MoD. Then, working with fellow charity Combat Stress, which provides care for ex-servicemen, they mounted a media campaign to raise awareness of the issue. To do this they issued press releases backed up with case studies, as well as giving briefings and allowing TV cameras into Combat Stress homes.

Results: Health minister Jacqui Smith's confirmation that there were no financial provisions in place for additional specialist mental health services for returning soldiers led to a wave of publicity. Coverage was spread across broadsheet, tabloid and broadcast outlets with features in The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph along with items on BBC Radio 4.

A key result was that on 7 May the MoD announced it was to launch a new research project which centred on screening personnel returning from Iraq.

The charity managed to spread key information through the media coverage.

This included the fact that many soldiers who see active service develop mental health problems and one in four homeless people are ex-members of the forces.

As mental health services in the NHS are currently changing, the charity hopes the work that it has done will feed into the reform of services.

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