Veterans’ mental health hit by cost-of-living crisis – Help For Heroes survey

The cost-of-living crisis has added to a decline in veterans’ mental health over the past 12 months, a charity’s annual survey suggests.

Help For Heroes says coverage of the war in Ukraine and loneliness are also driving the reported dip in mental health.

Some 810 veterans with self-declared physical or mental health conditions expected to last longer than 12 months completed the Veterans and Families Survey between August 15 and September 2.

Of these, 85% reported struggling with their mental health daily, compared with 73% in a 2021 survey.

The charity says 82% of respondents are worried about the cost of living, with one in eight having used a food bank in the last 12 months.

And 51% said news coverage of recent conflicts in Ukraine and Afghanistan has taken a toll on their mental health.

This has caused many to experience anger, depression, low mood and sleep disruption.

News of these conflicts has prompted feelings of guilty or shame for 35% of respondents.

And 10% reported misusing alcohol or substances as a result.

Of those surveyed, 82% reported experiencing feelings of loneliness and 32% say they are often or always lonely.

The latter rises to 54% for those living alone, the charity states.

Lee Patmore, 47, from Crawley, West Sussex, was in the Navy but was medically discharged in 1999 due to a serious back injury.

Mr Patmore, now a wheelchair user, left his job in marketing in October because it was having a negative impact on his mental health.

He said: “It’s costing more to go into work, it’s costing more to do everything yet work just can’t give you a wage rise to cater for it.

“It’s very difficult, it’s tough to hear that people who have already got quite possibly mental health problems in some way or another are then being affected further.”

Michelle Hopkins
Michelle Hopkins suffers from chronic fatigue and post traumatic stress disorder (Help for Heroes/PA)

RAF veteran Michelle Hopkins, 50, from Wickford in Essex, who suffers from Chronic Fatigue and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, has saved hundreds of pounds since taking the charity’s Financial Wellbeing course, it said.

The Flight Operations Officer served in the RAF for 16 years and was deployed to the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan.

She said: “Everything is more expensive now we’re in a cost-of-living crisis and now I’ve completed the finance course I feel like I’ve got a grip on what I have coming in and going out; it’s a good feeling to know I am in control.”

The charity’s interim chief executive James Needham said: “For those veterans living with long-term health conditions, it’s not surprising recent external factors outside of their control have resulted in a worsening of mental health.”

It has seen a 28% increase in referrals for grant funding support, up from 389 to 498, in the last year to September compared to the previous year.

It has seen an 8% increase in overall referrals, up from 2,438 to 2,623, to end of September 2022 compared to the previous year.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We encourage any veteran who may be struggling to come forward and seek support.

“Veterans in England can access specialist support through NHS England’s dedicated veterans mental health and wellbeing service, Op Courage.”

More information on support is available via: https://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/get-help/welfare/cost-of-living-support/