Did you know that in 2016 the PTSD rate in veterans and those still serving in the military had risen to 6%, compared to 4.4% within the civilian population?
Within the wider Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Search community, the levels of stress and other mental health issues are particularly high. Not just following their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in the day-to-day nature of the roles they carry out having a big impact on those serving in the military and their family members. Many keep quiet, suffering in silence.
Felix Fund is one of many charities and other organisations that are looking at ways in which to help those suffering and to try and reduce the number of new cases.
Addressing the risks of poor mental health in the military
In the early years, the charity provided normalisation breaks for hundreds of individuals from Explosive Ordnance Disposal & Search teams on their return from Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. These breaks were designed to identify or reduce the impact of mental stress that a high-pressure tour can bring about and consisted of a week’s therapeutic team building activities. Discussion groups were also designed to draw out and share operational experiences and, more importantly, provided the opportunity to regroup and reinforce peer bonds with colleagues who had travelled the same operational journey. The breaks proved vital in identifying and ultimately reducing the risk of poor mental health among individuals.
With troops no longer deployed in great numbers, Felix Fund continues to focus on the important issue of mental health amongst serving military. Late in 2015 we launched a programme providing training in mindfulness techniques. Known as the Dashboard Courses, the aim is to provide individuals with tools and techniques which will enable them to recognise the warning signs of stress and other mental health illnesses, and to allow them to develop their ability to relax, clear their minds and focus on the positive aspects of their lives. This will then feed back into a more productive and stress-reduced work and home environment.
Named the Dashboard Course to remove any stigma of personal development training or mental health training, we make use of the analogy that if a light comes on the dashboard of your car, you know what to do: check the oil, take it to a garage, etc. However, what if a light comes on in your own mind? Do we really know what to do, how to ask for help, who to ask for help? All too often the answer is no. Felix Fund hopes this course will answer those questions and help individuals before they end up too far down the rabbit hole.
Running since early in 2016, the Dashboard Courses have proved very effective. How many training programmes have been able to get a group of soldiers, sailors or airmen doing yoga, breathing exercises and running around a room playing catch with a fluffy toy?
The key to the whole programme is a totally relaxed environment away from work and home stresses, where individuals can focus on themselves. The two civilian trainers are totally committed to helping this unique group of men and women, and we are now looking to roll this programme out to the whole reach of Felix Fund – which means all three services plus the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terror Unit.
To date Felix Fund has had nearly 200 Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Search personnel go through these courses, with fantastic results – a 98% positive response to the course and what it delivers, and 90% of people stating they would encourage colleagues to attend. Also, 80% stated they would continue with the meditation and breathing techniques.
The course is not standalone; it can be:
A signposting mechanism for additional help from welfare officers, medical practitioners or other charity programmes such as Combat Stress or Help 4 Heroes where necessary;
Aimed at all ranks, ages and regardless of where they are in their military career; and
Used to help break down barriers, form tighter working relationships, and enable a large number of people to realise what effects their personal lives and work environments can have on their own mental health, often without them realising it.
The courses are currently open to serving military and counter terror personnel only, but as we continue to develop the programme and raise more funds, we hope to open this up to veterans in the near future.