Responding to the heartbreaking events in Afghanistan
18 August, 2021
RCPsych President, Dr Adrian James responds to the situation unfolding in Afghanistan and the implications for veterans' mental health.
The dramatic events unfolding in Afghanistan have been heartbreaking. It has been uncomfortable and upsetting to watch thousands of people fleeing their homeland in pursuit of safety. The threat to women and girls, and other marginalised groups is particularly troubling. Our thoughts go out to the people of Afghanistan and we hope that a peaceful solution is found quickly.
Many will seek asylum in the UK and will no doubt need mental health support because of what they’ve endured and the journeys they’ll be undertaking. The College will be working to improve conditions for asylum seekers and also the mental health support available to them. We are also calling on the government to scrap its Nationality and Borders Bill, which will exacerbate the mental health problems of asylum seekers.
Roughly 150,000 veterans in the UK have been deployed in support of the Afghan conflict. They may be left questioning the meaning of their service or whether it was worth the sacrifices they and the Afghan people made. As a result, some may be feeling distressed, especially those with pre-existing mental health problems, and may need to access professional care.
Some of our psychiatrists will be veterans and many of us will have veterans under our care. We need to ask them how they’re feeling, listen to them with empathy, and provide them with any additional support they might need. It’s vitally important for them to know that they’ve done their duty and that they are in no way responsible for the outcome and the tragedy that is unfolding.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Centre for Quality Improvement has launched a national network for veteran mental health services and is introducing new, specific quality standards for these organisations. This work to improve these services is now even more needed than it already was and will help improve outcomes for veterans by improving the quality of service provision and by providing consistency across services. If you work in a specialist service providing mental health support to veterans and want to be involved in this important work then do get in touch with the College.