Combatting stress: Conference focuses on providing better support for Veterans living with complex PTSD

 Veterans, medical professionals and individuals working with ex-military personnel, came together on Tuesday for a conference organised by the British Psychological Society, Crisis, Disaster & Trauma section, in partnership with St Andrew’s Healthcare.

The event in Northampton focused on ways to support veterans living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), so they can access services and receive treatment.

The number of serving Army personnel and military veterans living with PTSD has increased in the last 10 years, according to a recent study by King’s College London, which was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Part of the reason for the increase, according to experts, can be attributed to the lack of support people have upon discharge from the Armed Forces. In addition, many veterans delay seeking help as they have concerns about being stigmatised, feeling they may be perceived as “weak”, less ‘masculine’ or be treated differently for sharing their fears.

The conference was attended by a range of experts from across the trauma sector, including Dr Deborah Lee, a consultant clinical psychologist, and head of Berkshire Traumatic Stress Service, Dr Melanie Coxall, a clinical psychologist at St Andrew’s Healthcare and Christina Buxton from the British Psychological Society.

Speaking at the event, St Andrew’s CEO, Katie Fisher, said she was delighted to be able to host the conference, and explained how important it is to ensure veterans are getting the support they need.

Katie added:

“St Andrew’s is one of only six providers nationally providing care for patients who have the most complex post-traumatic-stress disorders. Working in partnership with the NHS, and the third sector, we provide support for veterans who perhaps don’t manage to achieve the recovery they would like through mainstream services. This allows them to recover and live the lives they want to live.”

Christina Buxton, a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society said:

“The conference today is really a reflection of the growing awareness of the complexity of people who are living with trauma that stems from ongoing and really complex situations. Complex PTSD poses a challenge for treatment, it poses a challenge for services, it pose a challenge for understanding, it poses a challenge for people in the community to really understand what these veterans are facing, when they’re living back in the community.

“I hope when they hear the things that are going on, and the developments which are being made in the field, they will feel validated and they will feel like they have a voice, which I don’t think they do.”

What is PTSD?

  • Being caught up in a traumatic event that is overwhelming, frightening and life-threatening can lead to PTSD
  • The symptoms usually start within a few weeks of the trauma, but they can start later
  • After the traumatic event people can feel grief-stricken, depressed, anxious, guilty and angry
  • People may have flashbacks and nightmares
  • People may be 'on guard' - staying alert all the time
  • Physical symptoms can be aches and pains, diarrhoea, irregular heartbeats, headaches, feelings of panic and fear, depression
  • People may start drinking too much alcohol or using drugs (including painkillers).

Source: Royal College of Psychiatrists

If you are struggling with your mental health, there is lots of help available:

Emergency help

If you are in an emergency and there is a risk to life – (either your own, or another person’s) – then please call 999.

Help in a crisis - call the Samaritans

The confidential Samaritans helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The helpline is free to call – just dial 116 123 (in the UK or Republic of Ireland). You do not have to be suicidal to call the Samaritans, and the trained volunteers can help whatever your age, and whatever is worrying you. If you do not need instant help, you can also e-mail the Samaritans on jo@samaritans.org.