Security fears 'stop Northern Ireland veterans seeking mental health help'
Former armed forces personnel seeking help for mental health problems in Northern Ireland find it harder to access services than their counterparts across the UK because of security fears, a veterans' charity has said.
Andy Allen, who helps to run AA Veterans' Support (AAVS) in Belfast, said the political situation in Northern Ireland compounded the stigma already facing ex-services personnel seeking treatment for a range of mental health conditions.
"A lot of people are frightened and concerned about divulging their previous service to health care professionals, GPs or mental health services," he said.
"Access to services is somewhat difficult for former service personnel in Northern Ireland, as it is across the UK, but add in the security factor here and it makes it much more complicated for veterans to avail of the support."
The former Royal Irish soldier was speaking yesterday after a government report revealed that the number of armed forces personnel and veterans seeking mental health care has nearly doubled over the past decade to just over 3%.
Mr Allen, a UUP MLA for east Belfast but speaking in the capacity of his role in the charity, described the figure as "alarming", adding it fits anecdotally with what he observes day-to-day at AA Veterans' Support.
"We've seen a 100% increase year on year on the numbers of individuals coming to us for mental health provisions," he added.
"There's a whole range of difficulties that people are facing such as anxiety, depression, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), adjustment disorder.
"We're also seeing that people are having difficulties in getting a diagnosis, part of that is down to the NHS being overstretched right across wider society for mental health provision."
Official Ministry of Defence figures showed that 3.1% of serving personnel are diagnosed with mental health conditions, twice the number that had been recorded in 2008/09.
But the House of Commons Defence Committee warned that the number of veterans with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression could be three times higher, at about 10%, amid concern that some may not seek help because of stigma surrounding mental health.
Deployment to combat roles in Iraq or Afghanistan "clearly increased the likelihood of mental health conditions", with one 2014 study finding PTSD levels of 6.9% among regular troops and 6% among reservists.