Amongst the founding priorities of the Trust are ‘to promote better mental health and well-being’ and ‘to build organisations’ capacity to deliver evidence-based prevention and rehabilitation’.  Since then, FiMT has worked hard to develop an understanding of the mental health environment, and to identify where the Trust can best deploy its finite resources to maximum effect.  As a result, FiMT has established a Mental Health Research Programme in collaboration with the Centre for Mental Health and the King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR), part of King’s College London.

The Programme is being overseen by a steering group of experts, co-chaired by Professor Sean Duggan, Chief Executive of Centre for Mental Health, and Professor Sir Simon Wessely, co-Director of KCMHR, King’s College London, and President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and incorporates strict protocols on handling the almost inevitable conflicts of interest that work in the field of veterans’ mental health throws up.  Other group members include representatives from Combat Stress, Mental Health Foundation, Veterans First Point, Anglia Ruskin University’s Veterans and Families Institute, University College London, University of Portsmouth and NHS England.

The steering group recommends the Programme’s strategic direction, and provides expert assessment to FiMT of relevant project proposals.  A key output from the steering group is the programme’s top 6 research priorities, which have now been published (in equal rank order) by FiMT as follows:

  • Alcohol and substance misuse, including effective and appropriate interventions.
  • The usefulness of services aimed specifically at veterans (including peer support workers).
  • Methods to improve help-seeking rates, and barriers to help-seeking.
  • The efficacy of military and veteran charities to provide effective mental health support.
  • The effectiveness of a ‘Recovery’ based model for the veteran population, including a wider focus on employment and debt management.
  • Impact on families, including aggressive behaviour, violence and domestic abuse.

Sean Duggan, Chief Executive of Centre for Mental Health, said: “We know that most Armed Forces veterans make a successful transition to civilian life, but that some face a range of mental health difficulties for which they need extra support.  We are delighted to be working with the Forces in Mind Trust to develop research that will build the evidence base about how best to support ex-Service personnel and their families with their mental health needs.”

Professor Sir Simon Wessely, King’s Centre for Military Health Research, King’s College London, said: “King’s College London is delighted to be assisting the Forces in Mind Trust on this task.  It is very difficult to over emphasise the important role of research in improving the health and well being of ex-Service men and women.  Everyone wants to help and support our veteran community, but knowing what actually helps, for how long and why, remains crucial.   And that is why we need research to guide investment for the future.”

The formal launch of this new Mental Health Research Programme coincides with the announcement of the first two awards.

  • FiMT has awarded a grant of £396,828 to Ulster University:

Dr Cherie Armour of Ulster University will conduct a 3-year study into the mental health needs of ex-Service personnel living in Northern Ireland, and the associated services delivered, entitled: ‘Mental Health Needs of the ‘Hidden Veteran Community’ in Northern Ireland’.  This research will directly address the mental health needs of veterans living in Northern Ireland by developing and implementing a large scale survey, which will assess not only mental health factors but also aspects such as coping styles and help-seeking abilities. The survey results will, for the first time, directly inform policy makers and service providers in Northern Ireland in relation to veteran mental health concerns and associated factors.

  • FiMT has awarded a grant of £190,595 to King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR) at King’s College London:

Dr Sharon Stevelink from KCMHR will undertake an 18-month study into the internal and external barriers experienced by ex-Service personnel accessing mental health services.  Dr Stevelink’s study will draw on KCMHR’s MOD-funded longitudinal cohort project, and the findings will be used to inform policy makers and service deliverers across many aspects, such as anti-stigma information campaigns, and inter-agency handover procedures.

Dr Armour, Ulster University, said: “We are delighted to have secured this funding under FiMT’s newly established Mental Health Research programme.  Securing this funding provides us with an opportunity to examine the mental health needs of the Northern Irish veteran community for the first time ever.  Directly in-line with FiMT’s objective we will be able to promote better mental health and well-being in the Northern Irish veteran community by providing an evidence base which will inform policy makers and service providers who in turn can ensure that service provision is matched to need.  We look forward to working with service providers and veterans in Northern Ireland and we look forward to developing a clear evidence base which will influence and promote positive change for veterans living in Northern Ireland.”

Dr Sharon Stevelink from King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR) at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, said: “We are delighted to receive this award and look forward to working together with FiMT to facilitate the smooth transition of Service personnel into civilian life.  A substantial amount of work has been carried out exploring the impact of stigma and barriers to mental health care services among those currently serving in the UK Armed Forces, but as yet, we know relatively little about this important topic in the veteran population.  The KCMHR is therefore pleased to be able to work with FiMT to carry out research into this subject which we very much hope will lead to substantial benefits for the way veterans’ mental health care is delivered in the UK.”

Ray Lock, Chief Executive of the Forces in Mind Trust, said: “As with the approach we take to all our work, we have first invested time, intellectual capacity and modest sums to make sure that we understand how best to use our resources to effect positive change.  Our new Mental Health Research Programme will deliver robust and credible evidence that, by influencing policy makers and service deliverers, will make a significant contribution to the mental health and well-being of ex-Service personnel and their families.  The role of King’s College London and Centre for Mental Health in consolidating and distilling the expert steering group’s views, has proved to be the critical enabler for this work, and we are absolutely delighted to be in partnership with them.”

“The awards to Ulster University and the King’s Centre for Military Health Research, between them totalling almost £600k, really demonstrate the capacity Forces in Mind Trust has, and is willing to use, to improve mental health and well-being, and in particular for those who are most vulnerable.”