Afghanistan: ‘The battle isn’t over’ - the mental health challenges still being faced by UK veterans

Many of those who fought in Afghanistan are seeking mental health help and support after the Taliban reclaimed power of the country

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has caused serious anxiety for many, including those who served in the country as part of the UK’s Armed Forces.

Questions have been raised by veterans who served in the war-torn country over the past two decades - helping to remove the Taliban from control and preventing the country from becoming a safe haven for international terrorists - with some now wondering if their efforts and sacrifices were worth it.

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Many of those who fought in the country for the UK’s Armed Forces - some of whom were injured, lost close friends and suffered from mental health issues due to the impact of the conflict - have expressed concerns after the Taliban reclaimed power, with some now seeking help from veteran and mental health charities as a consequence.

Sarah Jones, Head of Psychological Wellbeing at Help for Heroes, said the charity is “increasingly hearing of veterans and family members who are feeling distressed as a result of the situation in Afghanistan”.

Ms Jones said the graphic content being shown in the media “can be triggering to anyone who has experienced being in a conflict zone,” with the sights and sounds having the potential “to cause them to recall difficult events and relive traumatic experiences”.

She also noted that “there’s going to be a lot of wondering around ‘what was the purpose?’” from those who served in Afghanistan who are now witnessing the Taliban’s recent takeover of the country.

It’s a point that is echoed by Carolyn Brown, Clinical Lead at Walking With The Wounded, a charity that helps injured former British Armed Forces servicemen and women in their transition from the military to civilian life

She said: “The recent events unfolding in Afghanistan and subsequent news coverage may cause distress to those who served, especially those thinking of lost colleagues and friends.

“We understand that this is a difficult time, but you are not alone. Support is available for veterans and their family members, please do not suffer in silence.”

‘For many who served in Afghanistan, the battle isn’t over’

Phil Hall is a Complex Case Manager at Help for Heroes who also previously worked at field hospitals in Afghanistan as part of the British Army.

His role as a Complex Case Manager involves him helping some of the same men and women he cared for on the battlefield to hit their recovery goals, and in particular, he is supporting some of the most severely wounded veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.

He said: “For many who served in Afghanistan, the battle isn’t over. I’m proud to be here for those who have served in the British Armed Forces who need our support, as well as local interpreters who served alongside us now living with visible and hidden injuries in the UK.

“But we know there are others who have yet to reach out, years later, and I want them to know that we’re here for them.

“We are here to support veterans, and their families, to live independent, fulfilling lives. We work closely with other agencies and organisations to do this and will continue to do so for as long as they need us.”

What support is in place for veterans?

For those struggling with their mental health due to recent events, Help for Heroes is offering help and support, including a number of wellbeing tips such as:

  • Acknowledge the situation and how you feel about it, even if the emotions are challenging
  • Chat about how you’re feeling with someone you trust
  • Practice self-care and put your wellbeing first
  • Reach out for professional support if you need it
  • Look out for those around you who might be struggling too

For the past six months, the charity has also been supporting Afghan interpreters now based in the UK who worked alongside the British Armed Forces and are living with visible and hidden injuries.

Those struggling can also find help and support at Op Courage, Samaritans, HeadFit and other military charities including Veterans Gateway.

Combat Stress also has a 24-hour helpline on 0800 138 1619. If you need immediate and urgent support, contact 999.

However, when NationalWorld asked the Cabinet Office if further support would be made available to those who served in Afghanistan in response to the recent events in the country, it said the Government has invested £17.8m in funding for veterans’ mental health services this year to ensure that veterans “get the mental health support they need”.

When pressed again on whether this meant the Government had not considered implementing proactive support for service personnel affected by the events of the last week, a spokesperson said veterans of any conflict who had been triggered by the situation in Afghanistan could utilise the support already there for them.

A Cabinet Office Spokesperson said: “We encourage anyone who may be suffering to access the specialist care available to them.

“Earlier this year we launched the veterans mental health and wellbeing service Op Courage, which provides a clear single route for accessing specialist care through the NHS,” the spokesperson added.