Armed Forces, Criminal Justice and Mental Health

Around this 30th anniversary of the Falklands War I have been thinking about veterans and their mental health.  I’m not really sure where this post will go as I start writing it, because early internet browsing makes me already realise that we don’t know as much about this subject as we need to.

I decided to write something as the final commerations of the Falklands War took place and because of nothing more than two statistics I’ve heard during the commerations of the South Atlantic conflict:

  1. More veterans of the Falklands War have taken their lives by suicide since the conflict than were killed during it.
  2. 10% of the prison population are former Armed Services’ personnel.

And of course, that means both categories come to the attention of the police as we are almost always called to suicides and almost always involved in the investigation and prosecution of offenders.  But I am caused to ask myself what specifically, if anything, the police do to identify ex-forces personnel as they come into contact with the police for minor offending and what could be possible to identify people who may benefit from support.

The irony of this, is that I know how strong the links are between the police and the Armed Forces: very, very strong.  I have served alongside ex-forces personnel and I would go so far as to say that they have been amongst the most impressive and professional people I have worked with and from whom I learned an enormous amount.  In particular I recall working with three ex-Military police officers (at the same time) and those men taught me the kind of police officer I wanted to be.  A group of police officers I used to work with went to the Commando Training Centre in Lympstone for a charity weekend of fund-raising for Help For Heroes and raised a substantial amount to support injured personnel and veterans.

The charity Combat Stress state that they are currently supporting over 200 Falklands Veterans who more than 30 years after their service, are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and that, on average, our ex-forces personnel wait 13 years before seeking help with their struggles.  In 2012, the Ministry of Defence is launching phase 2 of its mental health awareness campaign “Don’t Bottle It Up“, complete with publicity materials to encourage current personnel to come forward and seek needed support.

So what is this telling us?  Well, firstly, we should remember that above I have just mentioned the Falklands Conflict because of the current anniversary.  Obviously we have recently had men and women serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya as well as elsewhere.  The numbers killed and injured in our ongoing conflict in Afghanistan alone far exceed those in the Falklands and the combat is of a very different type.  This can only be a significant generator of mental health related demand – some now; some in years to come.

The debate about policing and mental health in which I am mainly engaged often focusses upon the issue of recognition: how officers can identify all people who are potentially at risk because of mental health problems?  Charities call for greater understanding of different sub-categories of mental disorder including dementia or autism, personality disorder or learning disabilities – all with an aim in mind that earlier identification can lead to earlier, more appropriate supports.  The justice system also operates on similar principles for children although it may be far easier to spot a 14yr old than someone with a personality disorder.

Well, should it not be argued that the police should also be giving thought to our ability to identify and ‘divert’ Armed Forces personnel when they first come to police contact? Is it not the least we owe to those who have served our country that we think about how resettlement into civilian life with all its potential employment and adjustment problems, as well as some veterans’ mental health problems?  We never routinely ask in police custody whether someone is ex-Armed Forces.  Why not?! – we ask so much else and a minority of the custody sergeants working in cells blocks will probably be ex-Armed Forces themselves and all of them will be supporters of our troops.

This has to be something we can do more on: if 10% of the prison population are veterans, what is the proportion going through the CJ system to non-custodial outcomes?  We ask so much of our Armed Forces, this strikes me as an area of policing and public policy that needs more thought and whilst I’m not quite sure what I have just said is coherent: I would hope it has you thinking.

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The Mental Health Cop blog

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7 thoughts on “Armed Forces, Criminal Justice and Mental Health

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I went to an event a few years ago particularly about veterans and suicide and a lot of the information and discussion around that table have remained with me since. Apart from the acknowledged higher rates of suicide by ex-servicemen (I am not sure the equivalent exists for women, by the way, but would need to check that – the proportion (and this is off the top of my head so happy to be corrected) was much higher with men) than in civilian populations, there were issues discussed about support that is offered both while in the services and on discharge.
    One of the issues raised at the meeting I was at was about the need for GPs to acknowledge and be aware of spotting different needs from this group.
    However it is done, it absolutely imperative.

    My personal experiential perspective is probably skewed a little because I work predominantly with older adults however I work with a fair number of people who have served either during the war or as a part of National Service immediately afterwards. The need for specific and specialised support is something that I have tried to seek out and occasionally accessed but what is clear is that the provision doesn’t meet the potential need. Combat Stress do an excellent job as do SSAFA and the Royal Legion (in more practical capacities often) but what will really help I think will be a greater understanding in main stream services.

  2. we now ask all service users if they are veterans have specialist services in place MOD beds and close working links with nearby military base and combat stress not perfect but better than it was even 5 years ago

    1. I went in to work today and got an email sent around all custody sergeants to say we should be routinely asking and HQ are going to develop something more procedural. Has to be right!

  3. No waffle Here, just good old thinking aloud.

    I’m starting to see forces personnel more now, there’s a couple I’ve been to recently, one that I’m now on first name terms with. I had a good chat with one of our senior managers the other day and I think more safeguarding will happen from a paramedic point of view.

    For example, I’m sat here on standby in the response car at our busiest standby point and have been for nearly an hour and a half. I could have nipped round to a coupl of our regulars for a welfare check, both of whom have some mental health issues. Operational performance wouldn’t have been impacted as I’m ready to respond immediately. We could then ensure care plans are being complied with and our patients are getting the help they need.

    I’d prefer to be seeing patients than reading/commenting on your blog, good as it is!

    Tj

    @meditude

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