Troops face ‘growing mental health cost’ of Afghan war

There has been a “significant increase” in the number of UK veterans of the Afghanistan conflict seeking mental health treatment, says a charity.

Combat Stress said it had received 358 new Afghanistan veteran referrals in 2013, a 57% rise on the 228 in 2012.

The charity, currently supporting more than 660 Afghanistan veterans, said the issue would become heightened as UK forces prepared to leave the country.

The government said it had invested £7.4m in mental health services.

Combat Stress said it had found that veterans generally waited an average of 13 years after serving before they sought help, but this had fallen to an average of 18 months for Afghanistan veterans.

‘Reliving horrors’

The mental health charity said its total caseload of more than 5,400 veterans across the UK was the largest in its 95-year history.

BBC defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt said there was now far greater awareness of psychological trauma than in the past, which could explain the rise in referrals.

It could also be the case that the stigma around seeking help for mental health issues has diminished, she added.

She said: “The charity says it is a small but a significant number of veterans who are battling these hidden psychological wounds that, if they don’t seek help, can get far, far worse and be far harder to treat.”

The Ministry of Defence said it had invested £7.4m to improve mental health services and ensure they were available for everyone who needed them.

A spokeswoman said: “We want to further reduce the stigma of mental illness, encouraging even more people to come forward, and we will continue to work closely with Combat Stress to help veterans access the wide range of support available.”

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