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Mental Health

Volume 496: debated on Monday 13 July 2009

5. What recent estimate he has made of the number of current and former armed forces personnel likely to experience mental illness during the next 10 years as a result of their military service. (285625)

Some 0.1 per cent. of regular service personnel are discharged annually for mental health reasons of whatever cause. The King’s Centre for Military Health Research is undertaking an MOD-funded study of mental health disorders in both the serving and veteran community. The results will be available towards the beginning of next year and will inform mental health policies. In addition, evaluation of the six community-based NHS mental health pilot schemes will help to define the population at risk, the levels of need and the support required for those communities.

As the Minister is aware, post-traumatic stress disorder is as debilitating and as distressing as any physical injury, and many of our troops are returning with PTSD. According to a recent survey, only 71 per cent. of GPs are even aware of the MOD’s medical assessment programme. What are the Government doing to improve on that shocking statistic?

I am very grateful for that question. I stress that the number of individuals suffering from PTSD is very small, but I am on record as saying that each case is a personal tragedy for that individual. I am working on two levels, first to ensure that GPs know about the mental health pilots and secondly, with the Department of Health, to consider a veterans tracking system so that we can track veterans through the health system. If the hon. Lady or any other Members would like to visit one of the mental health pilots or the medical assessment programme at St. Thomas’s hospital, I would be quite willing to arrange that.

My hon. Friend is aware that it often takes ex-service personnel up to 13 years to present themselves for treatment under a mental health programme. What can we do to take away the attitude, which is not unusual among the military in this country, that presenting themselves for some form of mental health treatment is in some way a disgrace? Every single military serviceman who needs our help should present themselves and have a check before they go into civilian life.

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Unfortunately men, especially young men, are terrible at recognising mental health problems. I pay tribute, however, to all three services for raising the matter of mental health in-service. TRiM—trauma risk management—is a system of self-assessment pioneered by the Royal Marines, and it is ensuring that mental health problems do not carry a stigma and that people are not ashamed of reporting them. Working with veterans organisations and the NHS on six mental health pilots, we can ensure that there is help for veterans whenever mental health affects individuals.

The US Administration have put in place a $900 million PTSD programme, including comprehensive mental health screening for the operational military. Our Government have not. One could be forgiven for supposing that British combat stress and American combat stress were completely different disorders. Can the Minister say how much we have spent on PTSD, why clinical awareness of it continues to flatline and why there is no mental health screening programme for our returning veterans?

I do not accept that there is no mental health screening for our returning veterans. It is important to recognise that the King’s Centre has undertaken much research, as have the Americans. One thing that it indicates is that mental health screening pre-deployment is not effective and may actually cause more problems than it solves in the population in question. That goes right back to the second world war.

A small number present with PTSD. On the number who present with it in the US, there are question marks over how the operational tempo of the United States is different from ours. I know that our US counterparts and the Surgeon General are working together to examine comparative data. Recently, a team was over from the US to look at how we treat mental health in the armed forces and in our veterans community.