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Armed Forces Mental Health Champion

Ann Norman
Cllr. Ann Norman

Below is the text of a Soapbox article published recently in the Argus where Cllr. Ann Norman describes her new role as Armed Forces Mental Health Champion for Brighton & Hove:

In this the centenary year of the beginning of the Great War, what better time to highlight the excellent work that is currently going on in Brighton & Hove to help current and ex-service personnel who have been hit hard by the ravages of more recent conflicts.

The Brighton & Hove Armed Forces Community Covenant was signed in January 2013 following a campaign led by myself and the local branch of the Royal British Legion. Community Covenants are voluntary statements of mutual support between civilian and Armed Forces communities. They complement, at a local level, the national armed forces covenant, which outlines the moral obligation between the nation, the government and its armed forces. The aim of the Community Covenant is to encourage local communities to support the service community in their area and promote understanding and awareness among the public of issues affecting the Armed Forces community.

To take forward the aims of the Covenant, the Brighton & Hove Civil Military Partnership Board was convened by the Council with representatives from across the Council, the Ministry of Defence, the community & voluntary sector, the NHS and Armed Forces charities.

The Partnership Board has already started to have an impact, successfully bidding for Ł40,000 from the Government to design, deliver and manage a project to map out services and support for military veterans across Sussex.

One particular problem for a large number of current and ex-service personnel is poor mental health. The NHS Veterans Needs Assessment identified significantly higher than average incidence of depression, anxiety, substance misuse, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicide. Findings by the King’s Centre for Military Health Research have also indicated that Reservists are at greater risk of suffering from deployment-induced mental health-related problems than regular soldiers.

The Civil Military Partnership Board is working in partnership with the NHS Armed Forces Network to assess the scale of these problems in Brighton & Hove.

As part of this work, I recently attended a training course run by the NHS to help understand the issues affecting the mental health of current and ex-service personnel and take on the role of Armed Forces Mental Health Champion. As a Champion I have committed to provide advice and support to anyone who may be in contact with ex-Armed Forces personnel, their relatives, and also relatives of currently serving members of the Armed Forces who may be showing signs of mental health or other problems.

It is estimated that there are currently 4.8 million veterans living in Britain, representing one in ten adults. This number is due to increase significantly with the mass withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, resulting in the highest percentage of British troops in the UK since 1784. This will undoubtedly present new challenges for local authorities and a more joined-up effort is vital if we are to successfully integrate armed services personnel, reservists and veterans into the community.

I recently visited the Queen Alexandra Hospital Home in Worthing to see the amazing facilities that are available to rehabilitate physically disabled ex-military personnel and to enable them to regain their confidence. My ambition is that the work of the Civil Military Partnership Board will be able to make a contribution towards the provision of mental health services of which we can be equally proud.