Ministry of Defence reports drop in military personnel seeking mental health help during lockdown - but charities see surge

Some charities saw a rise in military personnel seeking mental health support during lockdown

Many people struggled with their mental health during lockdown, with rules and restrictions put into place to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic taking its toll on everyday lives.

Those currently serving as military personnel - and veterans - were among those finding it difficult during lockdown, with some reaching out for help from charities and other services.

Sign up to our NationalWorld Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

However, there appears to be a discrepancy between the data on mental health support provided by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and what charities are reporting.

The MOD found that one in 10 (10.5%) UK armed forces personnel were seen by military healthcare services for a mental health related reason in 2020/21, which is a significant decrease compared to 2019/20.

The report suggests it is possible that “a reduction in some routine and training activity during periods of Covid-19 national lockdown restrictions may potentially have removed some of the stressors of military life and contributed to this fall”.

But the Confederation of Service Charities (Cobseo), which represents the whole Serving and Veterans Community, found in its Covid-19 membership surveys that their members reported increases in requests for mental health help during the pandemic.

Mental and physical health was the critical service area to report highest levels of ‘significant impact’ from Covid-19, with respondents reporting a 45% increase.

Demand for Help for Heroes’ services also rose during lockdown, with a 33% increase in new people coming forward for mental health support in May and June 2020, when compared to the same period in 2019.

The charity also saw nearly 30% more new referrals into its physical health services across the same period.

An MOD spokesperson said: “In the last year, there was a fall in approaches to military healthcare services. The MOD is continuing to improve our welfare provision for mental health support, including the employment of over 200 mental health clinical professionals who provide a flexible, accessible and comprehensive treatment service.

“Due to government restrictions on travel and advice to work from home where possible, individuals may have spent more time than usual at home with their support network, which may also have contributed to the fall.”

Charity saw increase in veterans seeking mental health support during lockdown

Walking With The Wounded (WWTW) also saw a rise in the number of veterans approaching the charity for mental health support during the Covid pandemic.

Carolyn Brown, Clinical Lead at WWTW, said: “Walking With The Wounded has received a small increase in requests from veterans during the Covid-19 lockdowns seeking mental health support, and significantly most of these referrals were from veterans who had completed mental health treatment prior to Covid-19 and were experiencing a relapse of symptoms.”

Approximately 15% of veterans in therapy during lockdown also chose to pause their treatment due to Covid-19 restrictions, but they are now recommencing treatment, with the charity continuing to use a blended approach of face to face, remote therapy and telephone appointments.

Rob Jenning, an army veteran from Farnley, Leeds, received help and support from Help for Heroes during lockdown, joining the military charity’s regular online coffee mornings, a virtual photography course and a ‘sleep hygiene’ module in its recovery college - the first recovery college of its kind for wounded veterans and their families.

Since restrictions have eased, the former Royal Signals Communications Operator has

taken up kayaking, archery, stand-up paddle-boarding and biking with other veterans.

Rob said: “During lockdown my welfare case manager, Dreda, called me regularly. I don’t think I’d have got through it without her as she made me realise that the anxiety I was feeling wasn’t just because of the trauma I’d been through – others felt that way during the pandemic.

“Having someone to bounce my feelings off, from the perspective of a non-military person,

rationalised the frustration that possibly everyone was feeling.”

“Now that outdoor sports activities have started again, I haven’t missed one yet as I know how vital they are to my recovery,” he added.