In 2009, the University of Manchester published research which showed that Young men leaving the British armed forces are up to three times more likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts. young veterans aged under 24 stood out as being exceptionally at risk. Although the number committing suicide was relatively small, they were two to three times more likely to kill themselves than civilian men of the same age, or young military men still on active service. Although the MOD funded this research, their own statistics on suicide do not take in to account the number of veterans who take their own lives. Indeed they have no way of tracking the well-being of those who go back to civilian life.
It has been pointed out that one reason for the alarming trend in soldier suicides could be harrowing experiences in conflict zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan.A second explanation is the difficulty that some veterans experience in making the transition to civilian life. It seems obvious that anyone who has spent long periods in a war-zone is going to find adjusting to the banality and normality of humdrum home life challenging to say the least. Servicemen and women are exposed to stresses that most people won’t be exposed to in their lives so it is really little wonder that we in civilian lives cannot really comprehend the full horrors of war and the atrocities seen and many believe that it is a dereliction of duty on the part of the MOD to not offer more help with the transition from soldier to civilian.
Military charities have long since warned that we are faces a “ticking time-bomb” of mental illness and suicide among young Army veterans, owing mainly to a lack of mental health care for veterans, combined with the stress of fighting the Taliban. David Hill, director of operations for the charity Combat Stress, said it took an average of 14 years for veterans to ask for help with post-traumatic stress disorder. Many suffered in silence – often harbouring suicidal thoughts – because they were reluctant to admit to their vulnerability. Given that the army training includes the ability to never show signs of weakness it is fairly predictable that serving soldiers as well as veterans do not want to admit to feelings of depression or an inability to cope. Ex-Royal Engineer Lewis Mackay believes screening for PTSD after a tour would solve the problem of troops not wanting to admit they were not coping with the stress. “You don’t want to admit it to yourself that you have got something wrong with you,” he said.”The Army says ‘come and see us if you have something wrong’. Guys aren’t going to do it.”
Watching a heartbreaking Panorama, ‘Broken By Battle,’ broadcast earlier this year detailing the lives of soldiers who killed themselves after leaving the army, or the many more who suffered PTSD and controlled it with drugs or those who cam back from war zones changed, withdrawn or, more likely, violent it is clear that the MOD need to take more responsibility for the welfare of their personnel. In Lt.Col. Dave Grossman’s book ‘On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society’ he says that humans have an innate resistance to killing and there are great psychological costs that weigh heavily on the combat soldier who kills if he is not mentally prepared for what may happen; if his actions (killing) are not supported by their commanders and peers; and if he is unable to justify his actions (or if no one else justifies the actions for them). As our soldiers haven’t been defending our country but been the aggressors, it is probably impossible to come to terms with the carnage they have seen and perhaps caused. The servicemen and women pay a heavy price for the warmongers in power.