November 5, 2008 – Nearly 4,000 new mental health cases were reported in the Armed Forces last year, according to Ministry of Defence figures.
Women in the Forces also suffered from a higher rate of mental disorder than their male counterparts. Seven hundred servicewomen, some of whom will have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, were assessed last year as having a form of mental health illness.
Of the 868 patients treated between October and December, the number of women with mental disorders was the equivalent of 8 per 1,000 compared with 4 per 1,000 men.
Women increasingly have taken on frontline roles in Iraq and Afghanistan. Corporal Sarah Bryant, of the Intelligence Corps, was the first servicewoman killed in Afghanistan when the Snatch Land Rover in which she was travelling with three colleagues from 23 SAS was blown up by a landmine in June.
Surgeon Commander Neil Greenberg said that there had been a “marked increase” in the number of service personnel found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A total of 38 sufferers were recorded between October and December last year, of whom 31 had served in Iraq and 17 in Afghanistan (ten were in both operations).
Surgeon Commander Greenberg said that although the statistics did not prove that PTSD had been caused as a result of service in Iraq or Afghanistan it was clearly a factor. PTSD, however, was an illness that was generally caused by multiple factors, including difficulties with readjusting to home life after experiencing combat.
The symptoms included flashbacks of bad experiences, disturbing dreams, an inability to sleep and a tendency to avoid reminders of what had happened in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Troops who were sent to Afghanistan last year were, according to the figures, nine times more likely to suffer from PTSD, and those sent to Iraq were six times more vulnerable than service personnel who had no experience of either operation.
The MoD has confirmed that two rehabilitation centres for injured troops are due to be closed as part of a review. One of them is in Colchester, where 16 Air Assault Brigade is based. The brigade has just returned from Afghanistan, where 13 soldiers were killed and 80 wounded.
MoD sources said that Colchester would still have a multidisciplinary injury clinic and a primary rehabilitation centre at the garrison. The only change, they said, was that soldiers who needed longer-term care would have to travel either to Honington, Suffolk, or to Headley Court, the facility near Dorking, Surrey.
Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: “It is unacceptable that the Government is cutting back on facilities to help support the troops who have made such massive sacrifices on our behalf.” As evidence of the MoD’s increasing awareness of the need to monitor the mental health of combat troops, it was revealed that special “trauma risk management” teams were being deployed with all Army and Royal Marine units in Afghanistan. The RAF Regiment was also planning to operate the same system, Surgeon Commander Greenberg said.
The MoD said that on average 317 service patients a year were being sent to the Priory private clinic for treatment that was costing £4 million a year. The contract with the Priory is under review, and an announcement is expected in about two weeks.
There were 3,762 cases of mental disorder reported in 2007:
510 Royal Navy
89 Royal Marines
Source: Ministry of Defence