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NHS expands mental health support for veterans

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The NHS is rolling out an expanded mental health support service for Armed Forces veterans after a survey found that more than half find it difficult to speak up about mental health issues.

The health service has now launched a new campaign to highlight its Op COURAGE service, which now includes enhanced specialist support for addictions.

The latest available data reveals that from April-November 2023, more than 4,500 referrals were made to the NHS service which provides specialist care, support and treatment to former Armed Forces personnel, reservists and service leavers with mental health and wellbeing issues.

Minister of State for Veterans’ Affairs, Johnny Mercer, said: “I am determined to make this the best country in the world to be a veteran, but to do that we need veterans and the public to be aware of what support is already available to them, including our dedicated mental health service Op COURAGE.

“I would strongly urge anyone who is struggling to reach out.

“Help is available through Op COURAGE in England, dedicated NHS services in Scotland and Wales, and the Veterans’ Support Office in Northern Ireland.”

More than 30,000 referrals have been made to the veterans’ mental health and wellbeing lifeline service since it was first launched by the NHS in 2017.

There are around 2.4 million veterans living in the UK.

A new survey of over 3,000 veterans and serving personal, carried out by NHS England, found that the majority (around 60 per cent), of those who took part, said they found it difficult to ask for help for mental health issues.

For those who sought help from Op COURAGE, self-referral was the top method (around 44 per cent).

More than half of respondents (52 per cent) said they currently had, or had previously had, a mental health problem and 54 per cent said they had a physical health problem now or had previously had one.

As a result, NHS England has redesigned the service, with a focus on boosting self-referrals, as well as the addition of enhanced addiction support, and today kicked off an awareness campaign highlighting the service which supports veterans, reservists, and service leavers.

Support for veterans, reservists and service leavers through OP COURAGE is provided by trained professionals from the Armed Forces community or with extensive experience of working with the military.

The survey was carried out between April-May 2022 and received 3,095 responses.

Former Royal Marine, Invictus Games medallist and TV presenter JJ Chalmers, said: “If you’ve served in the Armed Forces, you’re forever part of this community of people who have a shared history, but even with people around you, it can be so difficult to ask for help and support when you need it most.

“Recognising when you need to reach out is the first hurdle and fellow veterans can help so much with this, as they’ve been through it too.

“The wonderful thing about Op COURAGE, is that it has been developed by veterans, for veterans – the trained NHS professionals you’ll speak to are from the Armed Forces or have experience of working with the community.

“They really get where you’ve come from.

“I remember how hard it was adjusting to life after the military, getting to grips with civvy street after everything I went through in Afghanistan.

“Having a service like the Op COURAGE to support you is invaluable.”

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