Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Army must address mental health issue

While the Army can take some solace from inquests into the deaths of two soldiers at Ballykinler base in Co Down within three months of each other in 2012/13, there are obvious concerns it has to address. (Ben Birchall/PA)
While the Army can take some solace from inquests into the deaths of two soldiers at Ballykinler base in Co Down within three months of each other in 2012/13, there are obvious concerns it has to address. (Ben Birchall/PA)

Editor's Viewpoint

While the Army can take some solace from inquests into the deaths of two soldiers at Ballykinler base in Co Down within three months of each other in 2012/13, there are obvious concerns it has to address.

The coroner found there was no evidence that the Army had failed the two men - one whose death was found to be suicide and the other accidental - or that there was proof of bullying or a culture that dissuaded soldiers from admitting to mental health problems.

But he did say the Army has work to do to persuade soldiers to seek help with mental health problems without fearing it would impact on their career. He also noted poor record keeping by the Army and the inquest had heard that there were eight other cases of serious self-harm around the same period.

The coroner said he would be writing to the head of the Army to note his concerns, although he did not specify exactly what they were.

However, it is safe to assume that the problem of mental health should be taken more seriously. That certainly was the finding of a committee of MPs at Westminster in a report earlier this week. They said some families, veterans and serving soldiers have been completely failed when they need mental health care.

Veterans organisations in particular have been vocal on the need for more help for those returning from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While the report noted that work was being done, it was clear that they felt it was insufficient and they urged the NHS and Ministry of Defence to create a specialised mental health centre for those in need.

The Army, like those around the world, is adept at sending mainly young men to fight wars in foreign parts, but the evidence suggests that when they return, the Army's concern for their welfare is not all that it should be.

Soldiers often pay a heavy price in the service of their country, either by giving their life, suffering life-changing injuries or enduring mental health problems.

The least they should expect in return is care in their time of need.

For the families of the two men who died at Ballykinler, the fact that the coroner is to write to the head of the Army will go some way to meet their dissatisfaction with some of the evidence they heard.

The inquest will give them some closure on how their loved ones died.

Belfast Telegraph

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