Mental health Q&A for veterans, spouses and dependants

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by the exposure to traumatic and distressing events.

What are the tell-tale signs of PTSD?

People with PTSD tend to isolate themselves from friends and family and to be reclusive. They do not want to go out as much, and are uncomfortable being in crowds.

They are quieter than they used to be before getting PTSD. They are likely to drink heavily or use drugs to avoid thinking about their problems.

People affected by PTSD are likely to have nightmares and insomnia, and they can be aggressive or even violent with their spouse or close family members. Find out more about the PTSD support available in England and Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland.

Many veterans can also struggle with depression and substance abuse. Read our guides about depression and alcohol and substance abuse to find out more and to get support.

Are veterans more likely to have PTSD?

Rates of PTSD and other mental illnesses are considerably higher in certain groups of the Armed Forces population compared to the general population. While being deployed to a war zone shows no increased risk, being in combat increases the risk of PTSD, depression, anger and alcohol abuse. Alcohol consumption rates are also higher in the Armed Forces.

How are dependants and spouses affected by living with a veteran with mental health issues?

Dependants of veterans with mental health problems have much higher rates of mental health issues themselves compared with the civilian population. According to a study by Combat Stress, 37% of service partners struggle with anxiety, 39% with depression, 45% drink too much, and 17% have PTSD. In comparison, only 3% of the general population has PTSD and 16% drink too much.

How can spouses and dependants get help?

There is help and support available for the spouses and dependants of veterans with mental health issues - you are not alone.

Observe your partner's behaviour and recognise the signs that your partner might be suffering in silence. Talk to them and tell them they need to get support for their condition.

Don't hesitate to talk about your situation with others and to open up. It will help you deal with the situation and find a solution.

Read our section on military families to find out more and access support.

You should contact your GP and ask about help available locally, such as family therapy.

Veterans' Gateway (0808 802 1212) can signpost to specialist mental health services. Contact an adviser to talk about your situation.

What should veterans do if they need help?

Veterans need to know that there is help available and they are not alone. First, veterans need to admit there is a problem - this is the first step to recovery. Family is the first port of call. They can help and support you on a daily basis.

You can ask your GP to arrange a specialist veteran assessment.

Combat Stress (0800 138 1619) is a charity offering free, tailored mental health support to all veterans. The charity offers a range of different treatment services: on the phone and online, in the community and at its specialist treatment centres. 

Contact Veterans' Gateway (0808 802 1212) to talk to an adviser. Many of them are veterans themselves. They can refer you to specialist charities and services in your area.

Some veterans are misdiagnosed or do not receive the support they need from the start, especially while they are still in service. You should not give up looking for the right help and treatment.

Do not hesitate to ask for help repeatedly even if you have been through therapy and your previous episode of care has ended. Mental health conditions can manifest again and you should seek more help if this is the case.


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