Mental health crises account for one in ten military evacuations, figures released under FOI show

Mental health emergencies account for more than one in ten air evacuations of military personnel, new figures have shown. Over the last year 121 servicemen and women operating abroad were flown back to the UK as a result of mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, PTSD and stress. Mental health was the second most common reason for medical evacuation, after limb injuries. More people were evacuated for mental health than limb disorders, heart problems or spinal injuries.

Return to Operations

Personnel who are deemed to be unfit to continue on operations are flown back to the UK by helicopter or transport aircraft to receive medical treatment. Evacuations can take place for emergency treatment or to deal with long-term conditions that prevent personnel from carrying out their duties. After treatment, servicemen and women then either return to operations abroad or remain in the UK. The RAF Aeromedical Evacuation Service is available to evacuate service personnel 24 hours a day if necessary. The figures do not show instances of mental health problems that are dealt with without the patient returning to the UK, or where the patient travels on a commercial airline. Evacuations from operations or training exercises on British soil are handled by the NHS.

Army Most Likely

The figures, obtained by The Sunday Telegraph under freedom of information laws, cover the period from October 2017 to September 2018. Army personnel were the most likely to be evacuated for mental health, with 69 evacuations, followed by 35 in the Royal Navy and 17 in the RAF. The proportion of evacuations for mental health has almost doubled since the period between 2003 and 2010, when the UK was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, although the total number is slightly smaller. A total of 12.4 per cent of evacuations between 2017 and 2018 were for mental heath conditions, compared with 6.3 per cent between 2003 and 2010.

Respond Quickly

Responding to the figures, a spokesperson for a military charity said: “It is important to respond quickly when people take that big step and ask for support, we have been asking the nation to call time on stigma and let those who serve our country know that it’s okay to ask for help.” The figures come after a Ministry of Defence statistical report found last month that Army personnel were at the highest risk of all three forces of deliberate self-harm during their service. The rates of self-harm among the forces as a whole stand at 2.8 per 1000, the figures show.

Series of Initiatives

Over the last year, the MoD has rolled out a series of initiatives to improve the mental health of serving personnel and veterans. Under the government’s military mental health and wellbeing strategy, unveiled in July, personnel undergo “resilience training” to help prevent depression and anxiety. Last February Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, launched a new ‘military mental health hotline’ that allows servicemen and women to call the charity Combat Stress and discuss their mental health concerns.

Not Increased

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “The number of evacuations due to mental health has not increased. “Military personnel are returned by air to the UK for a number of reasons, some of which are not necessarily medical emergencies. “We are committed to the mental health of our service personnel and have increased funding in this area by £20 million. “We have also launched an emergency mental health hotline and are working with experts and charities to tackle any perceived stigma around talking about mental health.”

How to get help | Do you need someone to talk to?

The following organisations offer free and confidential support over the phone:

  • Samaritans – 116 123. Round the clock support, every day of the year |samaritans.org

  • Mind – 0300 123 3393, 9am – 6pm, Mon – Fri (except Bank Holidays). Advises on a range of mental health issues | mind.org.uk

  • Young Minds – 0808 802 5544, 9.30am – 4pm, Mon – Fri. Supports parents and carers worried about a child’s welfare | youngminds.org.uk

  • The Mix – 0808 808 4994, 2pm – 11pm, Mon – Sun. Helpline for people under the age of 25 | themix.org.uk

For more helplines and mental health resources, see the NHS on stress, anxiety and depression