Skip to main content

Armed Forces: Mental Health Services

Volume 492: debated on Thursday 14 May 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with his US counterpart on the Battlemind programme; and what assessment he has made of the merits of introducing it for the UK armed forces. (275186)

There is extensive liaison at official level between UK and US colleagues on the Battlemind programme. Battlemind is a military skills training programme, developed in the US by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, to prepare service personnel for the demands and challenges of operational deployment, and to enable them to adjust successfully to the peacetime environment when they return home. A version of the programme, modified for the UK, is currently being trialled by the Academic Centre for Defence Mental Health, King's College London (ACDMH). The results of this trial are due early 2010.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the merits of introducing psychometric testing for the armed forces in order (a) to assess each serviceman or woman's vulnerability to psychological wounding from exposure to combat and (b) to screen servicemen after combat operations for changes in their personality which may be attributed to psychological wounding. (275187)

Research undertaken at the King's Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR) has produced evidence which strongly suggests that such processes are ineffective and may indeed be counter-productive.

Recent research is summarised in the KCMHR "Ten Year Report" published in 2006 by the University of London and covering a decade's worth of research concerning the health of UK service personnel and veterans. This explains that selecting out individuals who might be at increased risk of developing mental health difficulties prior to deployment is a flawed strategy because, whether one uses clinical interviews or questionnaire-based methods, it is impossible to distinguish reliably between those who will go on to experience psychological difficulties and those who will not.

Furthermore there is evidence of a detrimental effect on those screened out, even though they may, in reality, be suitable for deployment.

Similarly, although mental health screening after deployment is practised by other countries, the Department is not aware of any evidence which demonstrates that formal mental health interviews or the use of questionnaires on return from deployment are able to distinguish effectively between those who might benefit from further intervention and those who might not. The MOD does, however, strongly support the notion that the psychological welfare of troops is primarily a chain of command responsibility. We place great emphasis on ensuring that those in positions of command remain vigilant for signs of any mental health difficulties and support these aims through our post-operational stress management protocols which include, but are not limited to, the use of decompression and of Trauma Risk Management (TRiM).

The MOD also funds six mental health pilot projects for veterans, has dedicated psychiatric nurses in Afghanistan and funds the Medical Assessment Programme at St. Thomas Hospital.