Psychological issues are 'last taboo' in the military

Published: 13 May 2015 at 14:32

Project aims to persuade service personnel to open up about mental health issues.

Mental health issues are still considered taboo in the armed forces, according to the founder of Anglia Ruskin University’s Veterans and Families Institute.

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes has collaborated with internationally renowned artist Mark Neville on The Battle Against Stigma book project, which aims to challenge the stigma of mental health problems in the military and is supported by an Arts Award from the Wellcome Trust.

The project also hopes to change attitudes in order to encourage people to seek help at an early stage, without people being stigmatised because of mental health issues.

The book draws on the personal experiences of people involved in all aspects of military life, in the format of the Canterbury Tales. Decorated contributors include Sgt Johnson Beharry, who received the Victoria Cross following his service in Iraq, RCM Mick Flynn CGC MC, the most decorated soldier in the British Army, Major Chris Hunter QGM and Colonel Stuart Tootsall OBE, the former commander of the Colchester-based Third Battalion, Parachute Regiment.

Two volumes of the book have been co-authored by Professor Hacker Hughes and Mr Neville and 1,500 copies are being distributed free of charge to veteran mental health organisations and experts throughout the UK. It will also be used by Professor Hacker Hughes as a teaching tool for students studying the MSc Veterans and Families Studies at Anglia Ruskin.

The first volume consists of a photographic and written account of Mr Neville’s experiences as an official war artist in Helmand Province in 2011, which led to him being diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and adjustment disorder.

The second volume contains testimonies about PTSD and adjustment disorder penned by both serving and ex-serving regular and reservist personnel.

Professor Hacker Hughes said:

“Psychological health problems are the last taboo in the military. As shown by recent events, people often hide their mental health problems from others, sometimes with catastrophic results."

“The aim of this project is to encourage people to talk about their psychological health problems at an early stage and seek help early so their problems can be successfully treated."

“The sooner people can start talking about this issue, the better and that’s exactly what the people in this book are doing.”

The project is being supported by the Wellcome Trust and will be launched at Anglia Ruskin University on 15 June.