A Minute of Silence – A Lifetime of Sacrifice

The importance of remembering our veterans all year round: Thought leadership article by Leanne Morrissey – Senior Employment Officer, Enable Veteran Employment Service

Remembrance Sunday gives the nation a chance to reflect on the sacrifice made by more than one million British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in both world wars, as well as those that are happening today. But as the 11th day of the 11th month passes, we must ask ourselves if wearing a poppy and taking part in a minutes silence is truly enough to show our gratitude and respect to our Armed Forces personnel – are we doing enough for today’s veterans who are left with both mental and physical wounds from their time in combat?

The Royal British Legion reported in their Household Survey of the ex-Service community that working age veterans are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as their equivalents in the UK general population (11% vs 6%) – equating to around 120,000 unemployed veterans.

One of the reasons for these staggering statistics involves the stigma attached to mental illness. Many employers consider mental illnesses to be an impediment to hiring a veteran and, in turn, believe that those dealing with mental illness are unemployable. This assumption simply is not true. The majority of ex-service personnel enter into civilian life with no trouble at all and those with mental health needs can thrive within a workplace when given the appropriate support. This support can involve simple, cost-effective workplace adjustments which are achievable to most employers. With one in four people suffering with mental health needs per year, these adjustments can benefit not only the veteran but other employees who may also be dealing with poor mental health.

When considering what steps to make towards producing a more accessible workplace is it crucial that employers are flexible and creative with their ideas. Simple adjustments can include; flexible start and finish times; offering paid or unpaid leave for staff when they have medical appointments; phasing in an employee’s return to work if they have been signed off sick by offering part time hours; allowing annual leave to be spaced out regularly throughout the year and reallocating tasks when necessary on a temporary basis.

More practical adjustments can involve minimising noise – for someone suffering with PTSD, this can have a substantial impact on the way they work. This can be followed up with the provision of a quiet space for breaks. Ensuring that staff are not overwhelmed by their workload is also crucial to reducing stress which can exasperate any existing mental health needs, this can be achieved by giving staff the opportunity to focus on one task at a time.
The first step to achieving all of these adjustments is to reduce the overall stigma surrounding mental health that is then linked to people’s perceptions of veterans. Stigma affects all aspects of mental disorders, making it a fundamental factor to change in order to reduce people’s mental illness. Veterans sacrifice so much of their lives in exchange for our freedoms; helping to make civilian life accessible for them after such sacrifices is the best way that we can show our respects.

Public stigma often allows us to believe that there is justification for excluding people from normal life. This perpetuates existing mental health conditions by adding feelings of misunderstanding, rejection and ridicule. The “stiff upper lip” culture that has been present, particularly within the environment of the Armed Forces for many years, creates barriers for men and women to speak about their feelings even before they are discharged. When this mentality is mirrored by the general public it can prevent many people from seeking help which can intensify symptoms of mental illness to a point where significant damage is caused to their health, wellbeing and personal relationships. As much as it is important to break down any barriers within the Armed Forces, research indicates that the Armed Forces has no more of a problem with mental health issues than society as a whole. This means that it is up to every one of us to challenge unfair perceptions in our everyday life.

The tradition of wearing a poppy and taking part in a minutes silence is one that should be continued but if we want to make a change to the veteran’s lives who are with us today then we need a profound and notable transformation to our attitude surrounding mental health needs. As we come to the end of November, it is more important than ever that this needs to be a continuous change, carried out 365 days a year and not just for one month, one day or one minute of silence.

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