A government study by King’s College reveals that thousands of British troops (much higher than the government figure of 1.5 per cent) have experienced serious mental health problems due to the horror of Iraq. At least 20 servicemen have committed suicide since their tour of duty. For US troops the official figure for those with mental health problems is about 20 per cent. The cost to Iraqi civilians’ mental health can only be imagined.
With death rates multiplying due to suicide attacks and constant bombings, alongside the realisation that Iraq is sliding further into anarchy, it’s hardly surprising that our “peacekeeping forces” are suffering mental health disorders in such numbers. It has been known for years that stress affects mental health. For people who are already vulnerable, either due to nature or nurture, it may take only a little stress before a mental health problem emerges. But for anyone, if subjected to the relentless, life-threatening turmoil of Iraq, the risks are high.
Surely the Ministry of Defence is aware of this? Yet according to the study it seems that the MoD has failed to offer adequate psychological support to those most at risk of stress-related disorders. Perhaps we should take comfort that we live in more enlightened times than during the Great War when shell-shocked troops were often shot for being “cowards” or “deserters”.
This study rubs salt into the wounds of our national psyche. We were engaged in an illegal war. We have destroyed Iraq in order to set it “free”. As ever, the military is doing the dirty work of our politicians, who claim to have God on their side.
It’s difficult to see which stress could be worse. That of ordinary service men and women out there doing an impossible task for a morally bankrupt enterprise or the plight of Flt Lt Malcolm Kendall-Smith, jailed after a court martial for refusing to serve such a cause.
The toll on our troops and the Iraqi civilians will continue to rise. The “peacekeepers” will pay the price with their mental health and broken marriages. And Bush and Blair had better keep praying.
Nigel Leaney manages a mental health residential service.