Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Armistice Day 'hard for veterans'

The run-up to Armistice Day can be a "difficult time" for veterans with mental health issues

The run-up to Armistice Day is a "difficult time" for veterans suffering from mental health issues, a psychologist has said.

Symptoms of illnesses, particularly post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are enhanced at this time of year, said clinical psychologist Tess Browne.

Military uniforms and enhanced combat coverage in the media can lead to an increase symptoms such as nightmares or flashbacks, she said.

Dr Browne, who works for Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust and the London Veterans Service, said the fact that Armistice Day falls six days after Bonfire Night does not help because of fireworks that "sound like gunshots".

PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.

Sufferers can relive the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and can experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt. They may also have problems sleeping and find concentrating difficult.

"We often find that their symptoms can get a lot worse around this time of year," said Dr Browne.

"With things like PTSD and other combat-related problems, if veterans encounter things in the environment that remind them of things they might have experienced they might be more likely to have certain symptoms like nightmares or flashbacks.

"With Remembrance Sunday there are a lot of people in their Army fatigues and there is lots of stuff in the media about war and combat - so all those sorts of things could potentially make symptoms a bit worse.

"Also you've got firework night a few days before - so lots of bangs that sound like gunshots. The timing of those things together can lead to a tough time for our chaps."

She added: "This is a difficult time and people do feel worse so we have to be aware of that and make sure we can offer a bit more care and support.

" What we're trying to do is increase access (to mental health services) for veterans because it has been recognised that they are just not getting the support they need when they leave the military.

" That's why services like ours have been set up."

Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust s et up the London Veterans Service.

Any person who has served at least one day in the armed forces and lives within the M25 can access treatment from a team of experts, including psychologists, psychiatrists and specialist nurses.

The service helps veterans suffering from a number of issues including d epression, stress, PTSD, anger issues, aggression and alcohol or drug misuse.

It also helps to point them in the right direction if they are struggling with accommodation, employment and welfare issues.

Stephen Clark, spokesman for veteran's charity Combat Stress, said: "If a Veteran is suffering from PTSD or other anxiety disorders, loud explosions like fireworks can easily remind them of traumatic events that they faced in the Armed Forces.

"One group of symptoms of PTSD is hyper vigilance - simply put, being constantly on edge and hyper-sensitive to any perceived threat, real or otherwise. Having these symptoms and facing reminders of traumatic experiences can make this time of year difficult for veterans with mental health problems.

"November can be unsettling for veterans with mental health problems for other reasons. Armistice is a time to reflect on the great sacrifices made by British Armed Forces across the globe and for those who sacrificed their peace of mind, these can be an upsetting reminder of friends lost and terrible experiences. It is really important that these men and women get the specialist help and support that they need."

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