ICARUS on-line is a completely free Psychological Therapy and Counselling service for anyone who has served in the Armed Forces. It’s a Veteran-to-Veteran service. All the Therapists have served themselves and have complete understanding of the Military ethos and what it’s like to have been on active service. ICARUS on-line was started in November 2017 by Simon Maryan and David Bellamy. Simon is a Royal Marine, badly wounded in Bosnia. David served in Rhodesia in the late 1960’s during the Bush War then later in the Sultans Armed Forces, in the Dhofar War. Both are trained Psychotherapists, and both are passionate about helping former colleagues through their Mental Health problems and other life problems that so often surface following discharge from the Armed Forces.
ICARUS on-line was conceived following a dramatic increase in the number of Veterans falling through the cracks in the current establishment system for the treatment of Mental Health issues. Simon had been working in the Veteran community for over fifteen years, David less time, but both were being approached by Veterans and their families who had tried repeatedly to get the treatment they needed from the existing Military Charities and the NHS but who had become frustrated and despondent with the inability of the established system to respond. An alternative system needed to be in place which could respond immediately and without prejudice to any Veteran or their family that needed help.
Prior to the formation of ICARUS both Simon and David had been closely involved in the area of Veterans Mental Health. Some high level discussions had been held with senior Military personnel and those Executives in charge of running the larger Military Charities. It was evident that to implement any significant change to the existing system would be a lengthy and complicated process. While it is acknowledged that there are many people within the system doing very fine work, it is also evident that there are many who have vested interests in maintaining the system as it is, without change and without the vision or foresight to remedy the inefficiencies or the mismanagement that was making the established system no longer fit for purpose.
We found specifically that none of the Charities shared information amongst each other. Neither did they share technology or treatment methods or make their facilities available on a common interchangeable basis. The sector as a whole remained unregulated, with Charities responsible to no Executive body for delivery of services or for financial accountability. Choice of treatments was lacking and front-end response generally very sub-standard.
‘D’ had been suffering from a range of mental issues for some time before finally realising that he needed help. He and his wife eventually approached Combat Stress to be told that they would be put on a waiting list for specialist treatment which could take up to six weeks to come through. After three months without any response they returned only to be referred to their local GP who was even less able or qualified to help. ‘D’ attempted to take his life using pills but was discovered in time. This was followed by further frustrating appointments with Combat Stress and with his GP who referred his wife to the Police as an attempted suicide. In desperation and hopelessness ‘D’ hung himself in February 2018 and was discovered by his wife on her return from work. Her one comment was ‘If only we’d known about Icarus then perhaps we could have avoided the sense of hopelessness, and perhaps ‘D’ would still be here now’ … This is just one real life example of the sort of unacceptable tragedy that we must prevent.
In January 2018 we started to compile an accurate list of Veteran suicides. This started simply from a sense of annoyance at the inaccuracies of the press reporting who consistently mixed names and dates, interpolating one on the other to show a distorted picture. Once a soldier is discharged the Military will not keep any record of him after five months. Local Coroners are not required to note or differentiate between civilian deaths and Veteran deaths. In order to verify the vague and inconsistent information on Veteran suicides we had only the Veteran community and the families of the deceased on which to rely. We extrapolated those names on the list that died in the calendar year 2017 into the statistics for that calendar year, and those for 2018 into the current year. Where possible we added date of death, Unit, Rank and areas of operation. As at the time of writing the current Veterans suicides stand at 58 for the calendar year 2018. A very substantial increase over previous years, and this is only those deaths that we know about. The real figure is more likely around 70. According to ‘Veterans United Against Suicide’ an associate organisation to Icarus on-line involved in raising the awareness of Veteran suicides, there are at any given time anything up to ten potential suicides on record reported by families and friends. These are startling statistics. When looking at this figure in the context of the national average suicide rate we must remember that there are 2.6 million Veterans in the UK currently.
In trying to make sense of these statistics and what they tell us about the Veteran community, we have noted a disproportionate number of suicides in the mid-to-late 20’s age group indicating perhaps less financial stability, less maturity and ability to cope with life outside he Military compared to leavers in their 30’s. Overall, most have a history of Mental Health issues and most have had frustrating and ineffectual dealings with establishment Charities and/or the NHS. In general, we find that not enough is being done to prepare ‘leavers’ for civilian life, and that there is insufficient time devoted to helping soldiers adapt to civilian circumstances. We find that the younger ‘leavers’ are not being given additional help as a high risk group, neither is there consideration as to their specific circumstances at the time of discharge. We think these are areas that need urgent attention.
Moving on from suicides to a general inability to cope or to adjust following discharge, we have found that especially in the case of Medical Discharge the time from diagnosis to actual discharge can be as little as 24 hours, an unreasonably short period and clearly a high level of risk of complications. There is little or no counselling offered to those with Mental Health issues and such counselling that is available is restrictive in choice and often not appropriate to the individual concerned. I heard one soldier refer to PTSD as an incurable disease. Without proper counselling inappropriate and inaccurate talk will persist, something we must discourage and rectify.
One of the more challenging aspects of setting up ICARUS on-line has been to maintain the Veteran-to-Veteran service. We believe this is extremely important and responsible for us achieving such high levels of success with the treatments we offer. As one Veteran to another it is possible to establish almost immediate ‘rapport’ which places any and all therapies onto a strong bonding basis between Therapist and patient. However, in order to maintain this we have had to develop a training course to enable us to train other Veterans in what we refer to as ‘Psychological’ First-Aid as opposed to Mental Health First-Aid. We have devised a hybrid collection of treatment methods, taken from NLP, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, and conventional psychotherapy techniques including Hypnosis. A collection of techniques that we have personally found to be highly effective in the treatment of Veterans, and all designed to bring a person down from a highly stressed state of mind into a clearer and calmer mental state where remedial therapy can commence on the deeper and underlying issues. We call this the ‘Immediate Care Practitioner’ course and it is designed to sit nicely over the Mental Health First-Aid courses run by Mental Health First Aid UK for those who want to learn more of the concerned issues. The ‘Immediate Care’ course is now CPD approved and runs for three days. Graduates receive a recognised Diploma and a professionally recognised qualification. We have run three courses so far, one in Aberdeen, another in Birmingham and one in London with another in Newcastle before the end of this year. We also run in house training courses for staff at Veteran facilities for the Homeless Veterans. We are training staff at Veterans Launchpad in Newcastle in December and in process of organising the running similar course to train staff in different location in the early New Year. The course is available for Veterans and any staff involved in looking after Veterans, but civilians who also wish to participate are welcome at standard commercial rates. Any income from civilian participation is used to subsidise the services to Veterans. ICARUS on-line is a non-profit making organisation.
We are hoping to generate interest in the City and within the larger Corporates in running our ICP Course for their staff as a part of the ‘Mental Health in the Workplace’ initiative started by the Government in 2017.
Perhaps one of the surprising and most positive aspects to the starting up of ICARUS on-line has been the development of a large and very active following amongst the Veteran Community on social Media, especially on Facebook. Icarus can show a following of over one thousand people and Veterans United Against Suicide a following of over four thousand followers. This gives us the collective ability to access a half million people in the Veteran community almost instantaneously. We have used this network to disseminate information quickly, but also to alert the community to a missing Veteran for example, a potential suicide, and other similar emergencies.
The volume of traffic on the ICARUS website increases weekly. Veterans are asked to contact a Therapist through the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book and appointment or to arrange a telephone call. We run a 24/7 open telephone line that will allow anyone to reach either Simon or David almost instantaneously.
In closing, it is perhaps enough to say that we are increasingly working with the established system to bring about change and increased efficiency in what is made available to Veterans. We are talking to the Ministry of Defence, the NHS and to King’s College concerning treatment methods and better ways of delivery. We have increased our network and strive to be able to place Veterans in affordable or free housing or in employment. While our primary aim has always been and continues to remain the provision of Psychological help to those Veterans suffering from Mental Health issues, we find that more often than not these Mental Health issues are accompanied by associated life crises that also need attention and we need to be equipped to handle these as well. We are committed to bringing about change to the established system of Military Charities, we know that there is no shortage of funding within the system to effect these changes; it simply lacks the motivation to bring about the change. We are lobbying for the statutory appointment of an independent ‘Commissioner for Veterans’ who has legal powers to regulate, control and standardise the Military Charities, and to bring some accountability into this previously unregulated sector. To bring to this sector some coherent level of comprehension that delivers an efficient service on a national basis.
ICARUS on-line is not a Charity, it is an Association of Therapists who have agreed to give their time and services free of charge, and as such we rely solely on Grants and Donations for our funding. Our expenses are negligible, restricted to Travel and Publicity but we do need funds to sponsor Veterans through Rehabilitation following alcohol or Drug problems, we need funds to sponsor Veterans through training and we need funds to help us resolve other issues around the care of Veterans. We are fortunate to have been given an initial grant from the Veterans Foundation of £10,000 and our supporters have been more than generous in their donations through the website. We are planning and will host several ‘fund-raiser’ events in 2019. Your support is greatly appreciated.