Thousands of Sunderland veterans returning from Afghanistan with mental health problems

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THOUSANDS of Sunderland veterans are returning from war with mental health problems.

A new report claims there has been a “significant increase” in the number of UK veterans of the Afghanistan conflict seeking treatment for mental health issues.

Sunderland Armed Forces Network (SAFN) estimates that about 4,160 of the 26,000 veterans, from all conflicts and living in the city, are suffering from some form of mental health issue.

A report from charity Combat Street said it had received 358 new Afghanistan veteran referrals in 2013, a 57 per cent rise on 228 in 2012.

The charity, which supports more than 660 Afghanistan veterans, said the issue would become heightened as UK forces prepared to leave the country.

Graham Hall, from SAFN, said: “In Sunderland, we are seeing an increase in the number of former veterans seeking treatment for this kind of issue.

“It is not necessarily post traumatic stress, as this is a specfific condition that has to be diagnosed by experts, but rather a range of mental health issues.

“When you leave the services, you are not only leaving your job, but your home, your friends, your security; and in many cases, your whole support network, so it’s hardly surprising mental health issues arise.

“Many of those returning lack basic, day-to-day life skills, such as paying bills or budgeting.”

SAFN chairman Graham Hall, said: “These are very proud people who are not used to asking for help.”

Combat Stress said it had found that veterans generally waited an average of 13 years after serving before they sought help, but this had fallen to an average of 18 months for Afghanistan veterans.

The mental health charity said its total caseload of more than 5,400 veterans across the UK was the largest in its 95-year history.

The Ministry of Defence said it had invested £7.4million to improve mental health services and ensure they were available.

A spokeswoman said: “We want to reduce the stigma of mental illness, encouraging even more people to come forward.”