In support of World Mental Health Day 2019, Wednesday 9 October saw the first of what we hope will be an annual FSB Mental Health & Wellbeing conference in Liverpool.
For the event this year, FSB members and volunteers were keen to have a particular focus on the support available for veterans when leaving the armed forces, and highlight the 'hidden gem' skillset of the UK's ex-service men and women that can be a great asset to businesses. Discipline, attention to detail, integrity, honestly, loyalty, and efficiency to name a few were all key transferrable skills highlighted at the event as essential to businesses that service leavers have in abundance.
Hosted by the brilliant MC and Deputy Mayor of Liverpool, Gary Millar, the day included some fantastic speakers, most of whom are veterans themselves and had an incredible story to tell. Actually, the words ‘incredible’ and ‘inspirational’ don’t do their tales enough justice. Some of their experiences are just beyond comprehension, and I knew that this was something I wanted others to hear.
As inspirational as their tales were, the intention of the event was to focus on mental health and wellbeing, and what could be done to better support those suffering with mental health illnesses and in particular, service leavers. The veterans present were keen to highlight that 90% of service leavers transition back into civilian life without too many challenges. However, it’s important to note that the issues faced by the 10% who are less fortunate are quite significant. Since this year’s key theme for Mental Health Awareness Day is suicide prevention, did you know for example, a recent analysis found a suicide rate among veterans of approximately 30 per 100,000 population per year, compared with the civilian rate of 14 per 100,000.
There are so many fantastic charitable organisations across the UK working tirelessly to support our veterans. However, military charities have stated they are struggling to cope with the increased demand for mental health support of veterans. Sadly, veterans discharged with PTSD must then be “re-diagnosed” which can involve a minimum of 4-5 months’ wait on the NHS Mental Health Team’s list. That’s not necessarily a criticism of the NHS or the extremely incredible work they do, but more to highlight the lack of resource available in the various organisations who are responsible for providing essential support to our veterans.
It’s undeniable that veterans will be faced with some scenes on a daily basis that will inevitably cause PTSD, and lead to long-term mental health issues, but our event highlighted many other factors that send veterans down a dark path, and these are challenges that can be avoided with a decent support system. Some of the key themes that emerged were basic life skills such as budgeting, cooking, cleaning, living alone, applying for jobs, suitable housing, applying for welfare support, and other ‘minor’ skills that we take for granted every day; these are what service leavers often lack and lack support on. It’s easy to forget, whilst serving in the armed forces, our servicemen and women are provided with many of these things, leading to an ultimate lack of development of skills in these areas. To go from having your budgeting, cooking and cleaning done for you, and being constantly surrounded by your colleagues, to having to figure out everything from scratch out in the world on your own with no or little support will of course be very daunting and lead to even more strain on one’s mental health.
The Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces at strategic levels are working hard to ensure veterans are supported in their transition back to civilian life, and this has significantly improved over the years. However, it is evident that there is still much more work needed to be done, and many more measures to be introduced in order to reduce the suicide rate I stated earlier. Hopefully, our event raised some awareness of these issues and will lead to more open conversations and ultimately, improved supportive services.
Now to start planning next years event!