NHS expands mental health support for veterans

NHS expands mental health support for veterans
The NHS is rolling out an expanded mental health support service for Armed Forces veterans, as a survey found that more than half find it difficult to speak up about mental health issues.

The health service has today (9 January) launched a new campaign to highlight its Op COURAGE service, which now includes enhanced specialist support for addictions.

Latest available data shows that from April-November 2023, more than 4,500 referrals were made to the NHS service which provides specialist care, support and treatment to former Armed Forces personnel, reservists and service leavers with mental health and wellbeing issues.

More than 30,000 referrals have been made to the veterans mental health and wellbeing ‘lifeline’ service since it was first launched by the NHS in 2017.

There are about 2.4 million veterans living in the UK.

A new survey of more than 3,000 veterans and serving personnel, carried out by NHS England, found that the majority (around 60 per cent) of those who took part, said they found it difficult to ask for help for mental health issues.

For those who sought help from Op COURAGE, self-referral was the top method (around 44 per cent).

More than half of respondents (52 per cent) said they currently had, or had previously had, a mental health problem and 54 per cent said they had a physical health problem now, or had previously had one.

As a result, NHS England redesigned the service, with a focus on boosting self-referrals, as well as the addition of enhanced addiction support, and today kicked off an awareness campaign highlighting the service which supports veterans, reservists, and service leavers.

Support for veterans, reservists and service leavers through OP COURAGE is provided by trained professionals from the Armed Forces community, or with extensive experience of working with the military.

The survey was undertaken between April-May 2022 and received 3,095 responses.

Dr Jonathan Leach OBE, NHS England Associate Medical Director for Armed Forces and Veterans Health, said: “The NHS Op COURAGE service is unique – our staff are not only highly trained clinical professionals, but they are also either ex-military or know the military culture first-hand. This sets them up to provide a non-judgemental service and build trust with those seeking help.

“Our research has found that veterans can often struggle to know when to ask for help, but by providing them with professionals who have a deeper understanding of what they are going through, we are able to share success stories, such as Denis and Debbie.”

Minister of State for Veterans’ Affairs, Johnny Mercer, said: “I am determined to make this the best country in the world to be a veteran, but to do that we need veterans and the public to be aware of what support is already available to them, including our dedicated mental health service Op COURAGE.

“I would strongly urge anyone who is struggling to reach out. Help is available through Op COURAGE in England, dedicated NHS services in Scotland and Wales, and the Veterans’ Support Office in Northern Ireland.”

Former Royal Marine, Invictus Games medallist and TV presenter JJ Chalmers, said: “If you’ve served in the Armed Forces, you’re forever part of this community of people who have a shared history, but even with people around you, it can be so difficult to ask for help and support when you need it most. Recognising when you need to reach out is the first hurdle and fellow veterans can help so much with this, as they’ve been through it too.

“The wonderful thing about Op COURAGE, is that it has been developed by veterans, for veterans – the trained NHS professionals you’ll speak to are from the Armed Forces or have experience of working with the community. They really get where you’ve come from.

“I remember how hard it was adjusting to life after the military, getting to grips with civvy street after everything I went through in Afghanistan. Having a service like the Op COURAGE to support you is invaluable.”

Army veteran Denis Mutisya, 36, from Gloucester, who served in the 19th Regiment Royal Artillery, said: “I connected with Op COURAGE when I was discharged from the Royal Artillery due to both physical and mental health issues. That one call – it changed my life.

“One of the first things the service told me was that I needed to put my health first and that they’d support me and be there alongside me the whole time. Up to that point, I thought I’d reached the end, but they helped me realise it was just the beginning.”

Debbie Cooper, 55, from Gloucester, who served in the Royal Air Force, said: “When I left the service, I had a profession that easily transferred to the civilian world, and it wasn’t until I was in my late 40s that I really started to struggle in my job, both physically and mentally, and I had to medically retire. Losing a role I’d worked hard to build up to left a big hole in my life – I felt like I’d failed and I was scared about how I’d support my family.

“I was aware I needed help, and I tried, but it wasn’t easy. Everywhere I turned, no one really understood. Ultimately, I found myself in hospital after trying to end my life – I had lost all hope.

“I was searching for support online and came across Op COURAGE – it was the first glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. Talking to them was a breath of fresh air – I felt like someone was finally listening and responding in a way that was helpful – they got where I was coming from and understood my experiences, it finally felt like someone cared.

“They gave me hope recovery was possible and liaised with my local mental health team on my behalf, which was really important to me.”

What does Op COURAGE offer?

Op COURAGE provides a range of specialist support and treatment, depending on the needs of the individual – there’s no ‘one size fits all’. This might include helping you to recognise and treat early signs of mental ill health, as well as providing care and support for more advanced mental health conditions and psychological trauma.

In addition, the service provides support and treatment for a range of addictions, such as alcohol and drug misuse and gambling, and can refer you to other NHS services if needed. Op COURAGE also works with charities and local organisations to provide support for your wider health and wellbeing needs, which may include help with housing, relationships, finances and employment.

We know that when someone is unwell it may affect the rest of the family, so Op COURAGE can support them access help and care too.

Who can Op COURAGE help?

Op COURAGE supports UK Armed Forces veterans living in England, as long as they have served a minimum of one full day, and regardless of how long ago they left the military.

Op COURAGE also provides support to serving personnel due to leave the Armed Forces and reservists.

How do you access Op COURAGE?

You can contact Op COURAGE directly to make an appointment or ask someone else, such as a family member, friend, charity or health professional to make it for you. You can also ask your GP to refer you, but you don’t have to go through your GP to get an appointment. For details of your local service, visit the NHS website: www.nhs.uk/opcourage

What will happen when you contact Op COURAGE?

To make sure you get the right care and support, you will first have an assessment by someone who understands the specific needs of the Armed Forces community.

The service offers a range of treatment, which includes:

  • working with Defence Medical Services (DMS) to make sure you get mental health care and support as you transition from the military to civilian life
  • recognising the early signs of mental health problems and providing care and treatment for this
  • therapeutic treatment for more advanced mental health conditions and psychological trauma
  • intensive emergency care and treatment if you’re in a crisis
  • helping you to access other NHS services if needed, such as psychological therapies (IAPT) services and eating disorder services
  • working with charities and local organisations to support you with your wider health and wellbeing needs, such as housing, relationships, finances, employment, drug and alcohol misuse and social support.

For more information, visit the NHS website at www.nhs.uk/opcourage

Proud to be Veteran Aware

Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust (GHC) has affirmed its support to the Armed Forces community by signing the Armed Forces Covenant and is proud to be a Veteran Aware Trust.

GHC has also been awarded the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS) Gold Award in recognition of its commitment and support for defence personnel and the Armed Forces community.

Find out more here: https://www.ghc.nhs.uk/our-teams-and-services/veterans/

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