Mental health is a difficult subject to broach, even in a society which is much more receptive to discussion of mental health issues than it once was. As demonstrated by mental health charity Mind, as many as a quarter of us experience mental health-related issues in a given year.
Mental illness is not bounded to a specific subset of people, and yet its impacts can vary dramatically. Mental health in men and male-presenting people, for example, can be a particularly challenging topic as a result of societal expectations regarding masculinity. Men in military service are among the most heavily impacted by this cultural expectation, the military long having been its own symbol of quintessential masculinity.
With Men’s Mental Health Week running from the 12th to the 18th June, it is a good time to review the state of mental health in the military, from the stigma to its causes and the avenues available for support through it.
A Unique Stigma
While, on a wider societal level, conversations surrounding mental health are improving, it is still heavily stigmatised in certain circles – including military circles. Service can be a traumatic thing, and even with a troupe of colleagues undergoing similar stressors, there is little in the way of positive mutual support.
This is because the military builds a very specific idea of community, and places unique emphasis on individual strength as a tool for overcoming adversity. Weakness of any perceived kind is received poorly by maladjusted peers and superiors alike – rewarding silence over sharing. The military’s pragmatic approach to ‘effectiveness’ is uniquely stigmatising, and damaging as a result.
Common Mental Health Issues
Mental health problems can proliferate in a wide variety of ways within the scope of military service. The pressure to succeed, compounded with firm and harsh treatment from superior officers, can lead to stress and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Stressful events in active service can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression, with equivalent panic disorders and OCD also common diagnoses.
Avenues for Support
Thankfully, there are various ways in which servicemen and veterans can access resources and support. On the legal side of the equation, there are many solicitors that specialise in military claims relating to negligent treatment or injury in active service. On the pastoral side, numerous organisations exist to assist veterans in addressing their mental health issues, including Veteran’s Gateway. NHS mental health services remain oversubscribed, but are relatively easy to join a waiting list for. Finally, for urgent help, there are several military-specific hotlines that can be accessed 24/7, to ensure that a friendly ear is a moment away.