Decompression is a process designed to place individuals into a formal, structured and monitored environment in which to begin ‘winding-down’ and rehabilitating to a normal, routine, peace-time environment. Decompression is a discretionary activity conducted on a “needs” basis as judged by the in-theatre commander. It is conducted in-theatre, or at a location between theatre and the home base, and allows individuals time to begin rationalising their operational experiences in the company of their immediate comrades.
The unit chain of command will use this time to monitor and identify, based on the tempo of operations and knowledge of the soldiers concerned, those apparently most vulnerable to any form of post-operational stress, or stress related condition. Engagement with unit medical staff will be most important and a two-way passage of information between the chain of command and medical chain will be critical.
The policy is defined in a Permanent Joint Headquarters Deployed Operating Instruction and applies to all service personnel serving on PJHQ-commanded operations, whether regular or reserve. Currently, decompression for units returning from both Iraq and Afghanistan have been taking place in Cyprus, lasting for a period of between 36-48 hours, and involving significant numbers of the deployed force.
Reservists who are part of a formed unit will decompress with that unit. Those that are not considered to require to undergo decompression, they will receive briefings as part of the demobilisation package at either RTMC Chilwell (for Army and Royal Marine Reserves); HMS Nelson (for Royal Navy Reserves), or at their individual squadron (for RAF Reserves). The demobilisation process will include post-operation administration; a medical assessment; and further briefings on stress, the return to work and family, plus aftercare and welfare. This demobilisation period allows further social reintegration and observation, and is also the point where communications between the service and the individual (and their employer) is established. Thereafter, monitoring will take place through the chain of command of their parent reservist unit. The Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (RCDM) provides the same service for all personnel aeromedically evacuated from operations.