The true scale of post-traumatic stress disorder

Medical Director, Combat Stress
BAE Systems is proud of the work we do to support our Armed Forces and we work closely with charitable organisations across our markets to support veterans, their families and dependents. 
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One of the charities we partner with in the UK is Combat Stress, the UK's leading veterans' mental health charity which treats a range of mental health conditions including PTSD, depression and anxiety. With mental health issues affecting former servicemen and women of all ages, Combat Stress is a vital lifeline for these veterans, and their families.

Dr Walter Busuttil is Medical Director at Combat Stress and a world-leading expert in the treatment and rehabilitation of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  On this year’s World Mental Health Day, Walter talks about the true scale of PTSD amongst veterans. 

"The series finale of BBC One’s Bodyguard had 10.4m viewers on the edge of their seats. From the moment it was aired the nation was gripped: millions were witness to the destructive downward spiral of a veteran suffering from PTSD. Many might not have seen anything like it before. But the desperation of main character David Budd’s life was something we at Combat Stress have seen time and time again.
"Earlier on this year there were headlines accusing charities of exaggerating the scale of PTSD to raise funds. There were allegations that the symptoms of PTSD were fabricated or that they had no tangible link to time in the military. The surge in the number of veterans coming forward with trauma-related mental health problems was seen by some to be a gross inflation of the truth.
"While it’s true that PTSD is talked about a lot more nowadays, the same can also be said for mental health in general. When keeping a stiff upper lip was an integral part of British culture, talking about our feelings was nothing other than taboo. But as times change, mental health is becoming less of a stigma and everyone is talking about it more.
"Is the scale of PTSD exaggerated? Absolutely not.
"Combat and military-related trauma are very real and serious conditions. Veterans with PTSD struggle to leave the battlefield behind, reliving their experiences so often that they find it hard to function. PTSD has an enormous ripple effect; often it tears families apart, destroys relationships and devastates lives. For the most unwell veterans, suicide can seem like their only option. Anyone who watched Bodyguard will have seen this play out onscreen.
"The majority of those who leave the Armed Forces go on to lead fulfilling and rewarding lives. However, a small but significant group develop trauma-related mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and PTSD. Research published this week by King’s College London revealed that for the first time ever, the rate of PTSD is higher among veterans than serving personnel and the public. It’s particularly high among those veterans who served in combat – and it’s these veterans who are the most unwell and in urgent need of the specialist residential treatment we provide.
"Speaking out about mental health problems can be one of the hardest things for a veteran to do, so we’re part of a movement to create a climate where veterans can talk.
"Over the last ten years Combat Stress, as well as other organisations, has seen demand for its services double. Again, this isn’t exaggeration. The scale of PTSD is growing because there are more veterans reaching out for help than ever before – because thankfully, it’s becoming more acceptable to do so."
Veterans worried about their mental health can contact Combat Stress on 0800 138 1619
To find out more about Walter and his expansive career in psychiatry, listen to his episode of the Declassified podcast here.
Dr Walter Busuttil Medical Director, Combat Stress 10 October 2018