The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) have addressed figures released under the Freedom of Information Act which highlight that one in 10 military personnel evacuations are due to mental health problems.
Over the last year, 121 servicemen and women operating abroad were flown back to the UK as a result of mental health conditions, which include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and stress. Second only to limb injuries, more people were evacuated for mental health problems than limb disorders, heart problems or spinal injuries.
Personnel evacuated were flown back to the UK to receive medical treatment and had the option to either return to operations abroad or stay in the UK following their treatment. However, figures released omit some instances, such as those where mental health issues were dealt with without the patient returning to the UK, and those of patients travelling on a commercial airline.
Figures taken between October 2017 and September 2018 show that those most likely to be evacuated over mental health are Army personnel, with 69 evacuations throughout the period. The Royal Navy are second most likely, with 35 evacuations, and the Royal Air Force (RAF) had 17 evacuations in the period described. Indeed, the proportion of mental health-related evacuations almost doubled: from 6.3 per cent between 2003 and 2010 to 12.4 per cent between 2017 and 2018. These figures come after a MoD statistical report found in January 2019 that Army personnel were at the highest risk of all three forces of deliberate self-harm during service.
Nonetheless, the MoD has rolled out many initiatives aimed to support and improve the mental health of serving personnel and veterans, and the UK government’s mental health and wellbeing strategy, unveiled in July 2018, revealed that personnel undergo ‘resilience training’ to help prevent depression and anxiety.
An MoD spokesman commented: “The number of evacuations due to mental health has not increased. Military personnel are returned by air to the UK for a number of reasons, some of which are not necessarily medical emergencies. We are committed to the mental health of our service personnel and have increased funding in this area by £20 million. We have also launched an emergency mental health hotline and are working with experts and charities to tackle any perceived stigma around talking about mental health.”