Peter Webster – The ‘Invisible’ impact of serving your country

Peter Webster – Chief Executive of Corps Security

Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, a regular blogger, discusses post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He writes: “The security industry has attracted recruits from the armed forces for many years, as it is clearly a sector where many of the skills that leavers have learned whilst in service can be put to good use in “Civvy Street”. Corps Security, as most will know, was established to provide employment for servicemen returning from the Crimean War. What many may be surprised to learn, however, is that even today 55% of our colleagues have served their country in one arm of the military or another. Whilst this level of ex-service personnel is higher than most, we estimate that probably around 33% of our industry has a service background.

“Currently in the UK there are more than 2,000 military charities – all of whom are doing a fantastic job providing support for those who have risked life and limb for their country. The work that these charities do for those veterans with clearly visible signs of their sacrifice is amazing but, unfortunately, many veterans carry invisible scars which impact psychologically and emotionally.

“Perhaps one of the biggest changes in society over the last 20 years has been its attitude and approach to mental health. I’m pleased to say that many of the stereotypes surrounding this subject have been addressed in a positive way, but on a wider basis, do we really have a great deal more sympathy and understanding about the problems faced by those in a vulnerable psychological state as a result of their time in service?

“Most of us have heard of the term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Caused by very stressful and/or frightening events, it has become synonymous with those who have experienced the trauma of military combat, and ex-service personnel who fought in Northern Ireland, the South Atlantic, Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from it in significant numbers. The symptoms of PTSD vary widely but can include nightmares and flashbacks, as well as feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt. While it can develop immediately after someone experiences a disturbing event, it can also occur weeks, months or even years later.

“The scale of the problem is immense and in 2014 the Ministry of Defence published figures that showed a 12 per cent increase in the rate of mental disorders as a whole, including depression and anxiety. When it came to PTSD, the figure was up an alarming 19 per cent from the year before.

“As an industry with a significant number of ex-service personnel and current reservists working in it, I’m surprised that there isn’t more awareness of PTSD and other mental health issues. As so many of Corps Security’s employees have served in the armed forces, I wanted to find out more about the subject, so I recently met up with Combat Stress, the leading veterans mental health charity.

“It was one of the most enlightening meetings that I’ve had and it brought into sharp focus just how much more needs to be done to increase awareness of this subject and generate much needed funds. Combat Stress currently provides free of charge support for nearly 6,000 men and women ranging in ages from 19-97. It provides a vital lifeline for these people and, just as importantly, their families, and aims to help veterans live free from the harmful effects of psychological wounds.

“As I mentioned earlier, the changes in society’s attitude towards mental health issues have been immense but in reality PTSD and related problems have been around much longer. Unfortunately, for a long time anything non-physical wasn’t recognised as an illness. Those suffering from what we would today instantly recognise as symptoms of PTSD during the First and Second World Wars were simply considered to be lacking in moral fibre. The sad fact is that many people were imprisoned or even killed by firing squad for disobeying orders as result of their conditions.

“In this respect Combat Stress was well ahead of its time, as it was founded in 1919 as the Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare Society and opened its first ‘recuperative home’ in 1920 on Putney Hill in London. Dealing with those who had what was then known as shellshock, it was a true pioneer of a more compassionate and rehabilitation based approach.

“So, back to the present day. While the vital work of Combat Stress continues to make a real difference to many lives, in my opinion the security industry needs to do far more in terms of supporting our ex-service employees. We must learn to understand and recognise the symptoms of PTSD and put mechanisms in place that can help people through it.

“People with PTSD may become emotionally numb, aggressive and nervous, and when in a working environment such as manned guarding, it can be all too easy to dismiss this type of behaviour as a ‘bad attitude’, or to excuse it by saying that a person is simply going through a difficult patch. Particularly in male dominated environments, there can be a reluctance to broach the subject of emotional and mental health issues and it can be all too easy to simply avoid talking about them. However, a failure to address the issue early on can lead to longer-term problems and affect an individual’s ability to work at all.

“This simply has to change and a corporate and industry wide reassessment of how mental health is dealt with is the first and most important step on the journey towards helping those with this type of illness. Therefore, I would advocate that training on this subject should be given to all management, so that they can recognise the signs, talk to the person, and take appropriate action.

“As a matter of course, those returning from a ‘theatre of war’ must be fully supported. Experiencing unpleasant things at close quarters leaves scars, and those leaving the armed forces (either time-served or as a result of debilitating injury), should be given the necessary help to relieve the impact of these experiences. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the very least we should be doing.”

Corps Security Website

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