militaryThe number of ex-service personnel seeking help for mental ill health or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has risen by 26% in the past year, according to veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress.

The charity said the increase is largely down to a marked rise in the number of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan seeking help.

“We are very concerned at the significant rise in those coming forward with military PTSD,” said Dr Walter Busuttil, director of medical services at Combat Stress. “It is the biggest increase we have seen in recent years and we expect it to continue, so we are building up our clinical services accordingly. The good news is that we do have treatments that work.”

Indeed, research recently published in BMJ Open shows that the specialist PTSD residential programmes offered at Combat Stress’ treatment centres is an effective treatment for veterans with psychological injuries.

Results of the 2-year study show that veterans who completed Combat Stress’ PTSD Intensive Treatment Programme (ITP) had “significant improvements” in their PTSD and other mental health symptoms, including depression and anxiety.  In addition, 87% saw a reduction in their PTSD symptoms. This improvement was maintained at their six-month follow-up.

The findings show that offering treatment specifically designed for veterans is effective for ex-military personnel with PTSD. The research also showed that veterans engaged well in the treatment and drop-out rates from the programme were low.

Dr Dominic Murphy of Combat Stress, author of the paper, said: “This study demonstrates great improvements in veterans suffering from PTSD during and, importantly, after treatment with Combat Stress. This shows we can effectively reduce their PTSD symptoms – such as flashbacks – and also reduce depression, anxiety and anger problems. The results also show significant improvements in areas such as ability to work and fit into the community. Overall this means a real improvement in quality of life for these Veterans and, by extension, their families.”

The ITP is currently funded by the NHS and free to veterans as part of their recovery and rehabilitation at Combat Stress. The programme consists of individual and group sessions, including trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT) sessions.

“The programme has three key elements,” said Dr Busuttil. “We provide group education about their symptoms, then group skills training to help them cope better, as well as individual TF-CBT to help them face-up and process what has happened to them.”