Although not all veterans are severely affected, a military career carries significant mental health risks, particularly at times of war when substantial numbers of psychiatric casualties are usual. Research from the last decade shows that certain mental health-related problems in the armed forces, particularly harmful alcohol use and post-deployment violent behaviour, are a serious problem. Those who have left the forces during the last decade show markedly higher rates of a number of mental health-related problems, particularly PTSD and harmful levels of drinking. These issues are of particular concern in relation to ‘Armed Forces Day’, which serves among other things as a recruitment opportunity for the armed forces. But what are the mental health implications for those who enlist, particularly the youngest recruits who are most vulnerable to these risks?
The Origins of Mental Health Problems within the Military
Armed forces personnel are controlled from the moment they turn up for training, which steadily turns young civilians into operationally effective combatants by inculcating conformity with and obedience to the martial system. Whilst training includes conventional teaching of skills such as field-craft and handling weapons, its main objective is to reinvent how recruits think and behave (Hockey, 1986; Grossman, 2009). Training “breaks you down and then rebuilds you in a different way”, as one veteran has put it (Green et al., 2010). Another described training as operating on two fronts. First, it shapes minds by ‘indoctrinating’ recruits into the ideological values of the military system; and second, it ‘conditions’ behaviours by rewarding obedience and punishing dissent, to the point where all orders are obeyed without question or pause.
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