Paul Sweeny MP recently spoke out in Parliament about Veterans who commit suicide. The interest in Parliament was once again subdued, as it always is when veterans’ affairs are discussed. The general lack of interest shown by current Members of Parliament is typical of a government that doesn’t know what to do.
In response to the governments obvious lack of interest in the subject, Veterans’ and People’s Party Leader Robin Horsfall spoke out with his views not only on Veteran suicides but the state of mental health care as a whole. He said:
“Veterans mental health issues are indicative of a far greater problem. Mental health is a growing problem in the United Kingdom. Depression treatments are absorbing an ever-growing number of doctor’s hours. With no obvious cure and limited funds, the NHS is always under pressure to provide more counsellors, hospital beds and psychiatric wards to manage the symptoms of depression. Perhaps to is time to treat the causes not just the symptoms?
In the last fifty years the state has taken ownership of social problems, the state will provide the cure, the state will decide if you can keep your children, the state will decide if you are a decent human being, the state will provide a counsellor.
In the past families were responsible for children, if a mother couldn’t cope a friend or aunty took over, people with problems talked about their issues with their workmates and neighbours. Our counsellors were the wiser folk in the community. The pressures of modern life have forced every man and women into the workplace for an average of ten hours a day after which a worker returns home to precooked food and television. Garden fences are seven feet high so that no one can talk to the people next door. Village halls are no longer community centres they are business centres or potential housing projects. Human beings are social animals, they need to belong to a community.
People who commit suicide have fallen into such a dark place that they have lost the ability to ask for help at a time of crisis.
To deal with the problems of mental health we must deal with the problems of modern society.”
Calling upon his own military experience, having served in both Parachute Regiment and the SAS, Mr Horsfall added:
“If we take military veterans as an example of this extended problem we might be able to see what is missing in our nation as a whole. In the past joining the armed services was akin to joining a new family, it was an institution that meant more than a job of work. Members were given a sense of belonging, a sense of importance and a future. If mistakes were made they were punished but rarely was the perpetrator excluded permanently from the regimental family. Garrison towns endured though several generations and as a result veterans’ clubs such as the British Legion provided gathering places for the support of former servicemen and women.”
He went on to mention, as an example, the current lack of community values and job security within the Armed Forces today as a possible factor in rising cases of depression and related mental health issues.
“The current armed forces have retained some of the elements of belonging to a regiment or corps without the security of a long term job, without the low cost married quarters, without the extended communities provided by garrison towns. Service personnel often serve their country and are laid off early to save money, service contracts are short term and offer little in terms of a career. Military units are isolated and lack a place that is their home. We could take many of these examples and apply them to the general public – they lack a sense of belonging, home and unity.”
In his closing thoughts, Mr Horsfall proposed the simple idea of providing an outlet for anyone who believes they have, or have been diagnosed with, a mental health issue. Publicly funded spaces for those with issues to meet others with similar problems to discuss and share their burdens before any need for medications or unnecessary treatments are considered.
“If money could cure everything then the solution would be easy but it isn’t just money that is required to help those who are lost and vulnerable, it is creating places where people can go and talk. Sometimes they need to talk to friends and sometimes to strangers. It isn’t always a person who has completed a counselling course that they need, it is often a parental figure or a person with similar experiences.
It may sound simplistic but a gathering place with a table and cup of tea served by someone who could be your grandma could be better than a room full of boozers or counsellors. Servicemen who leave their unit feel as though they have lost their families. When I left the British Army I experienced a long period of emptiness and rejection that was fortunately filled by my wife and children. A lot of people don’t have a substitute when they are excluded from their family or workplace – they are lost.
In conclusion I would encourage more publicly funded gathering places that encourage volunteers to sit and talk with those who are lonely and isolated. I would encourage those clubs and groups that already exist to provide talking shops where people communicate rather than spectate. If we are to treat depression we must start at the root causes and I believe that the primary cause is loneliness.
The problems of suicide, depression and PTSD are important to veterans organisations who are close to the problem. Sadly, these groups are spread nationwide and lack unity. To influence MPs veterans need to carry their weight of numbers into local and national elections. I want The Veterans’ and People’s Party to offer that unity.”
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