Mental Health Training For The Armed Forces

Mental Health First Aid is an internationally recognised programme conceived in 2000 in Australia and now running in more than 15 countries around the world. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has accredited the MHFA instructor training programme in England.

MHFA England is endorsed by the Department of Health

Beacon Counselling Trust are the first organisation to be trained and to deliver the MHFA for Armed Forces Community.
This course was developed in 2012/2013 by MHFA England, Combat Stress, the Royal British Legion and SSAFA.


Why the Armed Forces Community?

There are many misconceptions about mental health problems within the Armed Forces community. For example, due to the nature of Service life, the medias has tended to focus on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when, in fact, research indicates that other problems (such as alcohol misuse) are much more of a problem.

Where PTSD is an issue, however, the impact can be very serious and often appears alongside a wide range of other problems, including substance misuse and depression. Furthermore, it seems to take a long time for veterans to seek help for PTSD: on average, it takes 13 years from Service discharge before an individual first makes contact.

This may be symptomatic of the likelihood that the stigma associated with mental health problems is even more of a problem for Service personnel and veterans than it is for the general public.


Family Members

Having a family member – such as a spouse, son or daughter – who is serving or who has served can also be very stressful. Long periods of separation, during which the family member may be deployed to a conflict zone, can lead to isolation, anxiety and depression. If that family member is seriously injured, they may end up becoming a full time career, which brings its own stresses and strains.

Research indicates that certain sections of the Armed Forces Community may be at a higher risk than the general population of mental health problems.

A study of UK Service personnel returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan found that Reservists were twice as likely to experience mental health problems than colleagues who were not deployed. The same research found alcohol misuse to be a significant problem within the Armed Forces as a whole, and research by Manchester University found that the risk of suicide among early Service leavers aged 20-24 years and 20 years and below was two to three times higher than the same age groups in the general population.


Reasons for Training

There are many reasons why people need training in Mental Health First Aid

  • Mental Health problems are common, especially depression, anxiety and those associated with misuse of alcohol and other drugs. One person in four experiences some form of problem with their mental health in the course of a year.
  • There is stigma associated with mental health problems. This may be particularly acute within the Armed Forces community, and may hinder people from seeking help.
  • People are often ashamed to discuss mental health problems with family, friends and work colleagues. They may also be reluctant to seek professional help for such problems because of their concerns about what others will think of them. Members of the Armed Forces may be particularly concerned that it will affect their chances of promotion and might lead to them being medically downgraded.


‘Stigma had been reported as an important deterrent for seeking help for mental health problems in the general population. It is likely that such deterrents are amplified in military culture where characteristics of strength, resilience, and self-sufficiency are selected for and prized’

(The stigma of mental health problems and other barriers to care in the UK Armed Forces, King’s College 2011)

  • Many people are not well informed about mental health or mental health problems
  • Professional help is not always on hand
  • People may lack the insight to realise that they need help or that help is available
  • The majority of us do not know how to respond