The rise in missed opportunities related to mental health and self harm
At Bolt Burdon Kemp we have noticed a rise in cases and enquiries to the Military Claims team, related to missed opportunities in diagnosing and treating service personnel struggling with mental health issues, which has led to severe injury or death.
We have seen this particularly applies to recruits in their Basic Training, and young service personnel. Earlier this year, we made a Freedom of Information Request to the Ministry of Defence to explore this further, and the Policy and Secretariat from Army Headquarters responded with Defence Statistics Health.
According to the British Army website, there are four main locations for Army training for recruits to join the Army in the U.K. This is known as ‘basic training’. The main training centres are (1) AFC Harrogate (2) ATC Pirbright (3) ATR Winchester and (4) ITC Catterick.
We requested data related to Army Training Centre Pirbright including the number of deaths from suicide and attempted suicide figures.
Between 1 January 2015 and 31 March 2022 (latest data available), 171 regular UK Army personnel based at Pirbright were assessed with a mental health disorder at MOD Specialist Mental Health Services. It should be noted that this data does not include the individuals who either suffered from pre-existing conditions or left basic training without a diagnosis.
Between 1 January 2015 and 31 March 2022, according to the data, there were 81 regular UK Army personnel based at Pirbright and there was at least one incident of self-harm recorded using the initial Notification of Casualty (NOTICAS) reporting system as captured on the Defence Medical Information Capability Programme (DMICP). It is worth noting that just under 50% of those 81 individuals were under the age of 20.
There are known difficulties in capturing mental health issues and self-harm episodes in general. Individuals are not always upfront and honest about reporting these symptoms, particularly due to the associated stigma related to it. The reluctance to report symptoms is even greater in the military, with our clients nearly always telling us that they have either felt the pressure to show that they are strong and resilient because of the nature of their environment.
It is also not always visible for a medical officer, or chain of command to identify self-harm if it is hidden and not easily identifiable.
That being said, if an individual shows signs of distress, strange behaviour, self-harm, any suicidal ideation or references made from other individuals, this needs to be properly investigated without delay. I would also argue that both the medical chain and chain of command should be even more alert to the importance of identifying and supporting individuals who are struggling because of the very environment they are operating in.
It is disheartening to see a theme of mistakes being made, and missed opportunities by welfare, medical officers and chain of commands not identifying a potential risk in young service personnel. Even more so when individuals are being told to get on with it, “man up” or otherwise, when they do have the courage to tell a superior that they are struggling.
We have seen in the most extreme of cases, this lead to suicide in cases such as that of Olivia Perks.
The military has a duty of care to all service personnel, and recruits to safeguard their health and wellbeing both as an employer and healthcare provider. There are procedures and guidelines in place to help them identify these signs early on and signpost those individuals to relevant support services, such as welfare, or Department of Community Mental Health services.
I act for a number of service personnel and veterans who have experienced mental health issues whilst serving. In severe cases, this has ended their careers and changed their lives irrevocably.
If you or a loved one has experienced mental health issues whilst serving in the British Armed Forces, Bolt Burdon Kemp could help you seek the compensation you deserve. Contact our dedicated military claims solicitors to discuss your case in complete confidence.