Shedding light on mental health in the forces
Results showed they did not, but, as the conflict in Iraq continued and operations in Afghanistan began, the MOD asked Professor Wessely and his team to continue tracking their randomly-selected sample of 10,000 troops:
"After 2005, Iraq got nastier and casualty rates went up," said Professor Wessely. "Then the same happened in Afghanistan, and an assumption was made - particularly by the media - that this would lead to a dramatic increase in mental health problems. It's hard to find a newspaper report that doesn't take it for granted that we were facing a bow wave or even a tsunami of cases."
"That simply reflects that more and more people have deployed," said Professor Wessely. "The rate remains steady but the absolute numbers are going up. There's been no collapse in morale, no catastrophic epidemic of mental health problems. We also did not find an effect of the number of deployments."
"Alcohol does much more harm to the Armed Forces, to individuals, to their families, society, yet it doesn't get talked about," said Professor Wessely. "We showed that not only are there high levels of drinking in the forces, but there is an effect from deployment - people come back and reinstate their drinking at a higher level than before they left. "It's not an easy subject and there's no obvious answer," he continued. "Because alcohol also has a very positive influence on military culture - units that drink more have better cohesion and higher morale."
[Picture: Laura Mtungwazi]
"I'm neutral about research but absolutely positive about wanting to improve the health of the Armed Forces," he said.
"We've only published the headline-grabbing areas so far. We have a wealth of information on tour length, operational stress on families, on jobs, on reintegration into civilian life, reservists and medical countermeasures."
Looking after the mental health of Armed Forces personnel and veterans is a 'top priority' for the MOD says the Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox. He has said a programme will be set up to tackle post-combat mental health issues for those leaving the forces.
Reservists are offered a mental health assessment and treatment for combat-related conditions. 75 per cent of those treated recover.
Those at risk from alcohol problems get counselling and welfare support from the MOD. More serious cases receive specialist medical and psychological treatment and rehabilitation.
Trauma Risk Management (TRiM) and Battlemind programmes are now standard within deployed military units, and decompression breaks in Cyprus are scheduled for all troops returning from operations in Afghanistan.