Mental health in the field

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18 / 3 / 2016 1pm

Major Andy Stubbs is a community mental health nurse at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, and has been in the Reserve Forces for ten years. In this blog he shares his experiences of mental health in the military.

In the NHS I am a crisis nurse and look after people who are experiencing a sudden and intense period of severe mental distress. I also have a role with street triage services, and go out with the police to provide on the spot advice to officers who are dealing with people who could have possible mental health issues. I’m also a serving Major in the British Army, and in 2009 I was second in command for field mental health in Afghanistan. I am also a member of the Surrey and Sussex Armed Forces Network where I act as a mental health champion.

Mental health

The Army has measures in place to reduce the risk of mental illness and increase awareness at all levels. This includes mental health briefings on how to look after yourself before being deployed, being looked after by TRiM (Trauma Risk Management) during deployment, decompression time in Cyprus before your return to the UK, followed by a period of post-operational tour leave where you are supported by your local unit. The process is always developing and the military is constantly learning.

My role in Afghanistan was to assess the mental health of troops, looking at if they could carry out their job and if they couldn’t, getting them home and looking after them. I was also in a NATO mental health team, which gave me an insight into the care pathways operating in different countries.

During my time out in the field, I got to learn about how the military looked after troops through the Trauma Risk Management programme (TRiM), which uses peer-group mentoring and support. This meant that I could talk to the TRiM practitioners and get an insight into what have they found, so we could target those in need more easily.

Experience

My experience as a reservist has benefited my NHS role by making me view problems and my approach to work slightly differently. As it is so intense out there and you are focused completely on the job in hand, when you return and people are arguing over small things, such as tea breaks, it puts your purpose and experiences into perspective. It has also made me appreciate the facilities that the NHS has, because when I was in Afghanistan I was undertaking mental health assessments during rocket attacks. 

Support

My NHS organisation has been immensely supportive and has allowed me to manage my reserve service seamlessly. They give me two weeks additional paid leave and are very flexible with my training programme. Last year I had the opportunity to go to Canada and take part in a hospital exercise which was fascinating, it gave me the opportunity to work with people I had never met before and see how a mental health department is set up from scratch.

If anyone was thinking of joining the Reserve Forces, I would say that it’s a hugely beneficial experience because it teaches you discipline, gives you a sense of belonging, improves skills and is also fun. 

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