Army families under growing strain

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HEALTH professionals have warned of a major rise in the number of Armed Forces families being treated for stress and anxiety as the strain and isolation of watching their loved ones head out on repeated tours of Afghanistan over the past decade is now starting to take a significant toll.

Outreach workers at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire have warned of a “toxic mix” of stress, isolation and uncertainty among soldiers’ wives, partners and children. GPs have also claimed the number of families, or dependants, in need of support is a significant issue.

Grahame Dickinson, the practice surgery manager at Harewood Medical Practice based in Catterick who has worked at the garrison for the past 17 years, said: “We do find an issue with the number of tours the soldiers are going on and the dependants are noticing it. We get them coming through the doors here where they are anxious, worried and lonely.

“They effectively become single parent families and also they have a situation where they are worried.

“We have raised this as an ongoing issue because the military move them here away from their extended families. They are very isolated in that respect. It is obviously an issue for the dependants.”

The Vulnerable Veterans and Adult Dependants (VVADS) scheme, which was launched in Catterick in response to fears many of those leaving the Armed Forces were becoming isolated on the fringes of society, has released figures showing 35 per cent of the referrals it has received this year are dependants compared to just 15 per cent who are veterans. Outreach workers have told the Yorkshire Post the figure of dependants coming forward for treatment could be even higher.

Sue Matthews, an ex-Army corporal and higher intensity therapist at VVADS, said: “You do hear from a lot of patients now that there is anxiety about the future. Also a lot of patients are now really frightened. They are really worried and really anxious that their loved ones are not going to come back.”

The isolation of young families when the soldiers go away is blamed as a major issue by health professionals, as many have been posted to Catterick away from their traditional support networks. The increased exposure to the horrors of Afghanistan in England compared to previous years is also having an effect, as is the strain of soldiers leaving the Army and becoming isolated on the fringes of society.

The Yorkshire Post revealed earlier this year that domestic violence incidents in Hambleton and Richmondshire – home to Catterick Garrison – had overshot predicted levels by more than a third, with growing numbers of frustrated ex-servicemen unable to find employment contributing to the rise. Every year, 20,000 personnel leave the Armed Forces with a significant number settling in the region which currently provides 11 per cent of the regular Army.

Ray Stubbins, an ex-RAF serviceman and therapist at VVADS, said: “It is the fear of something that is happening that is really taking its toll now. If you keep hitting hit a wall, in the end it goes down.

“It is a toxic mix of people coming into Catterick who are immediately taken away from their families and taken to an isolated place with poor transport. They don’t know anybody and they are aware their partner could be sent to Afghanistan or posted away.

“I do see lots of partners of soldiers. About 40 per cent of the people I see are dependants and even the people that aren’t have strong links with the Army. It has been a general increase. This war has gone on now for an awful long time. There is a lot more information out there now, it is this constant drip that is causing people to be run down.”

Meanwhile in Hull, the Humber Traumatic Stress Service is launching a new Army families group in the new year to meet demand. The group, run by NHS professionals who specialise in working with ex-military personnel and serving reservists, will help manage the emotional impact of deployment for Armed Forces families. The NHS Yorkshire and the Humber Armed Forces Network was officially launched earlier this month and is aiming to prevent a feared mental and physical health timebomb.

The Ministry of Defence said it recognises the need to do more to ensure the Armed Forces, veterans and their families have the support they need.