Figures released by Defence Analytical Services and Advice (the MoD department that monitors mental heath issues) show increasing numbers of serving military personnel have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
In 2012 alone, 1,662 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines were treated for neurotic disorders including PTSD, while more than 700 suffered mood disorders and other mental and behavioural problems.
The MoD has worked hard to improve care for serving personnel with programmes to try to minimise post-traumatic stress. However, these measures and figures do not take account of the substantial number of military personnel who suffer mental illness after leaving the armed forces.
Combat Stress, the leading mental health charity for former forces personnel, believes there are at least 10,000 veterans living with mental health conditions who need help. It fears that 20,000 redundancies planned over the next two years will put more people at risk without access to the military's internal support network.
Symptoms of PTSD can take years to emerge and anyone who has suffered or witnessed a traumatic event can display them. Many Falklands War veterans were only diagnosed more than a decade after the South Atlantic conflict, and although disputed by the MoD, some forces charities maintain that the death toll among veterans from suicides now exceeds the number who died in combat.
The issue of PTSD isn't limited to just military personnel of course. Civilians who have had a traumatic experience or witnessed a traumatic event can suffer the symptoms of PTSD. It's long been accepted that those who experience combat will suffer from some form of stress, but the key point is that anyone – including serving or discharged members of the armed services – diagnosed with PTSD may be entitled to claim compensation for their suffering.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
The symptoms of PTSD usually develop during the first month after a person witnesses a traumatic event. However, in a minority of cases there may be a delay of months or even years before symptoms start to appear. The most common symptoms of PTSD are grouped into three categories:
- Re-experiencing: this can involve nightmares or repetitive and distressing images or sensations. Flashbacks (reliving the trauma over and over) can evoke distressing memories and cause considerable anguish. Physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating are also common along with dark or frightening thoughts that can become suicidal. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the traumatic event can also trigger re-experiencing.
- Avoidance: these symptoms may also be triggered by circumstances that remind a person of the event. Some change their personal routine or behaviour to avoid confronting places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives a car may try to avoid driving at all.
- Hyperarousal: symptoms, such as being easily startled, feeling tense and 'on edge', are usually constant instead of being triggered by reminders of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry and may make it hard to perform 'routine' or 'normal' tasks or functions such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating. Sometimes people have these very serious symptoms for only a few weeks. If that's the case, they are usually diagnosed with acute stress disorder (ASD). When the symptoms last more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, they might indicate PTSD.
Some people with PTSD experience long periods when their symptoms are less noticeable (symptom remission) but these periods are often followed by an increase in the severity of any symptoms experienced. Deliberately erasing any memory of the event, feeling emotionally numb or having a strong sense of guilt, depression, or worry are also common symptoms of PTSD.
Victims can often seem deep in thought and withdrawn or may also give up activities or hobbies that they used to enjoy. Other symptoms include anxiety and phobias, drug or alcohol misuse. The breakdown of relationships and work-related problems are also common.
This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024