The Impact of Self Isolation on Armed Forces Veterans

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Gavin Hughes

Partner, Military Claims Solicitor

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During the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic the entire UK was put into lockdown by the government to help slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

This included military personnel who were asked to follow  guidance from the UK government on social distancing, working from home, and non-essential travel. Given the nature of the  Armed Forces and the close quarters they normally work in, it is perhaps not surprising that this could prove to be challenging. This kind of difficulty is surely only made worse when you consider that the Armed Forces workforce will be used to a highly dynamic and active working environment.

These challenges come even more into focus for those veterans who have been deployed in more recent conflicts. The lockdown  for them, may have led to more time spent reflecting on traumatic past experiences and trying to come to terms with their impact. Given the isolating nature of lockdown, ordinary everyday distractions became limited which, in turn, will have led to an increased amount of time to recall, re-live and ruminate over these traumatic experiences.

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Negative effects of isolation

Veterans and those individuals employed in the Armed Services are certainly not alone in experiencing the negative effects of isolation throughout lockdown on their mental health. In fact, researchers in a flash study have found that there’s been a spike in the number of people who are reporting significant levels of anxiety and depression since the beginning of lockdown. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, a total of 36% of people said that their anxiety levels were significant and a total of 38% of people reported significant depression.

This impact was felt immediately as the research reporting these statistics above took place only one day after the Prime Minister at the time, Boris Johnson, announced the nation wide lockdown. By way of comparison, prior to the announcement of lockdown or even the emergence of COVID-19 in the years from 2018 to 2019, only 19.8% reported their anxiety levels as being high. Sadly in 2019 alone there were 10.3 million instances of poor mental health in the UK which includes both anxiety and depression. Among all health conditions, depression alone was the third highest ranking cause of disability, showing that even prior to the pandemic mental health problems, and especially depression, was affecting the lives of millions of people across the UK. These statistics allow us to make a direct comparison with the general mental state of the UK population directly following the announcement of the lockdown back in 2020. Accordingly, when the differing levels from prior to the announcement of lockdown was compared to the same research the day after the announcement of the lockdown, there was actually an increase of more than 137% in levels of depression and a huge increase of 111% in reported levels of anxiety.

In light of this it’s very clear that the lockdown has had a real effect on the general population, but there’s very little doubt that this impact will be more significantly felt by veterans in particular.  For veterans who now have an established second career following their service in the British Armed Forces, the time that they’ve had away from the workplace could have given them more of an opportunity to reflect on the extremely traumatic experiences that they have been through in addition to them considering the impact of these past experiences on both themselves and their families.

 

Mental Health Issues and Consequences

Sadly, for some, this may be a time where mental health issues are brought into focus. This could include  using alcohol or illicit substances as a crutch to cope with anxiety, depression, problems with anger management and marital strain. Some may even turn to other addictions, such as gambling as a way to escape the extreme mental anguish that they are facing during such a difficult and isolating time for so many.

Another issue which only serves to add to this mental health crisis for the entire population of the UK, including veterans and those in the Armed Forces, is the current cost of living crisis which is only predicted to worsen in the future. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) conducted a survey of this very issue from the period starting from 29 September 2022 to 23 October 2022 which included individuals living in Great Britain who were aged 16 years old or above.

The results of their survey make for dim reading with 84% of respondents reporting either no or mild symptoms of depression during this time period and 16% of respondents reporting either moderate or severe symptoms. Given the short period of time this survey was conducted over, it is somewhat concerning to see figures of this magnitude. However, when compared to the years during which lockdowns were prevalent due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a small decrease has been noted more recently with figures spiking throughout 2020 and 2021.

This shows that it would appear that the COVID-19 pandemic remains a key source of depression for many, with research published by the JAMA Network Open predicting that increased levels of mental health problems are likely to continue for some time, even though all restrictions related to the pandemic have now been lifted.

The same research found that the number of people suffering from high levels of anxiety and depression increased by more than a third during the pandemic causing a mental health crisis. In particular, these levels increased over the second lockdown when compared with the increase in figures found during the first lockdown imposed on the general UK population.

 

Kishan Patel, the Lead Researcher involved at the University College London commented on this crisis, saying:

“We found a sustained decrease in mental health. There was a lot of talk that lifting lockdown measures would automatically return people back to normal, but our results suggest that wasn’t the case at all.”

“Given the sustained deterioration of mental health during the pandemic, I would think that it would still be sustained now [after the study period ended] and into the future. As long as the pandemic exists, I would say it’s highly likely that high psychological stress will continue”

Charities campaigning for improved awareness of mental health issues have welcomed the research but state that more has to be done to help those individuals affected recover from the effects of the pandemic.

 

Jess D’Cruz from Mind (the Mental Health Charity) stated that:

“The study was, sadly, unsurprising.”

“Many of us have found the pandemic very difficult to cope with for different reasons – including fears about getting sick, feelings of loneliness during lockdowns, concerns about finances and uncertainty about the future”

“Recent estimates suggest that there are 1.6 million people waiting for mental health treatment and another 8 million who could benefit from mental health services but aren’t deemed unwell enough to be eligible to access them.”

Additionally, it is important to recognise that types of problems associated with the effects of anxiety and depression, such as increased alcohol consumption or gambling, may be red flags for a more serious underlying mental health condition, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – especially for those who are or were in the Armed Forces.

 

Treatment options

Thankfully, medical treatment should be readily available for any service personnel or veterans who decide or think that they may need it.

For those currently in active service, the unit medical centre should be able to help by giving them an assessment and possible treatment with the appropriate forces mental health medical professionals.

Veterans and anyone approaching discharge from the armed forces can contact the Transition, Intervention and Liaison Mental Health Service through the NHS website which can be found here or by calling 0808 802 8080.

Additionally there are many charities such as Walking with the Wounded, and Combat Stress, both of which have had many years of experience of both assessing and facilitating various different treatment options for veterans who have been affected by any kind of mental health condition either during or following their employment in the armed forces

If any veterans feel that they have experienced a historic injury which was not managed appropriately by  medics in the armed forces and their Chain of Command, they may have taken the time during  lockdown as an opportunity to consider whether they would be interested in  taking any legal advice on making a potential claim for compensation in relation to this and the impact that this has sadly had on them and their lives.

Our expert team of Military Claims Solicitors can offer many years of expertise in this area. You can be rest assured that we are able to  offer a no obligation initial consultation completely free of charge, so talk to one of our experienced Military Claims Solicitors.

 

COVID-19 Support Force

It should give us all comfort to hear news of the involvement of our inspirational Armed Forces to help the country through the unprecedented challenge it faces.

Previously, the COVID Support Force was involved in projects including helping the NHS convert the Excel Exhibition Centre into a 4,000 bed hospital, supplying food and other supplies to the elderly, transporting personal protective equipment to hospitals in addition to approximately  250 Armed Forces personnel undertaking training to drive oxygen tankers for the NHS.

In addition to this, the Ministry of defence have also confirmed that there are up to 20,000 personnel waiting on standby who are more than ready to help with the management of the crisis in any way they can.

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References

Office for National Statistics. (2021). Coronavirus and Depression in Adults, Great Britain, July to August 2021. Retrieved from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/coronavirusanddepressioninadultsgreatbritain/julytoaugust2021

UK Government. (2022). COVID-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing Surveillance Report: Triangulation Comparison Across Surveys. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-mental-health-and-wellbeing-surveillance-report/3-triangulation-comparison-across-surveys

University of Edinburgh - Generation Scotland. (n.d.). Pandemic Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.ed.ac.uk/generation-scotland/what-have-we-found/latest-results/pandemic-mental-health

Mental Health Foundation. (2022). Anxiety Statistics. Retrieved from https://mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/statistics/anxiety-statistics

Mental Health Foundation. (n.d.). The Economic Case for Investing in Prevention of Mental Health Conditions in the UK. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/publications/economic-case-investing-prevention-mental-health-conditions-UK

Office for National Statistics. (2021). Coronavirus and Depression in Adults, Great Britain, July to August 2021. Retrieved from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/coronavirusanddepressioninadultsgreatbritain/julytoaugust2021

Mental Health First Aid England. (2020). Mental Health Statistics. Retrieved from https://mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/research-and-evaluation/mental-health-statistics/#depression

Office for National Statistics. (2020). Coronavirus and Depression or Anxiety in Great Britain. Retrieved from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/datasets/coronavirusanddepressionoranxietyingreatbritain

Office for National Statistics. (2022). Cost of Living and Depression in Adults, Great Britain. Retrieved from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/mentalhealth/datasets/costoflivinganddepressioninadultsgreatbritain

UK Government. (2020). COVID Support Force: The MOD's Contribution to the Coronavirus Response. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/guidance/covid-support-force-the-mods-contribution-to-the-coronavirus-response

Walking With The Wounded. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from https://walkingwiththewounded.org.uk/

Combat Stress. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from https://combatstress.org.uk/

Portrait of Gavin Hughes

Gavin Hughes

Partner, Military Claims Solicitor

Gavin is a Partner in our Personal Injury department and Head of the Military Accident and Injury Claims team. He also runs his own caseload of military personal injury cases.

Gavin shows a personal touch with his clients and works closely with them to achieve the best results.

He is a robust and determined litigator and has secured many six and seven-figure settlements for clients throughout his career.

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