Telephone and ‘video-telephone’ services such as Skype could be used to improve access to therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for UK veterans, and increase the numbers of individuals who are able to get support…

Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) has awarded £78,546 to Combat Stress, the UK’s leading mental health charity for veterans, to explore whether remote access tele-therapy could improve accessibility to such therapy and to assess the impact of the treatment. The 15-month study will be conducted by Dr Dominic Murphy, Senior Clinical Lecturer at Combat Stress.

Whilst there is some evidence showing that tele-therapy is acceptable for US veterans with PTSD, there is a paucity of such research with UK veterans. This study seeks to address the research gap by exploring the views of UK veterans about whether they find this type of therapy acceptable to them, and to analyse the effectiveness of this therapy in reducing the severity of symptoms of mental health problems.

Research of UK veterans suggests that only a small minority (around a fifth) of veterans who experience mental health problems are able to access services for support. Reasons suggested for this include stigma about experiencing mental health problems and also practical issues around not being able to access services.

Tele-based treatments, a term that normally refers to treatments delivered via telephone or online video-conferencing services such as Skype, have the potential to reach and support people living with PTSD in remote or otherwise hard-to-reach locations. This study seeks to determine both the effectiveness of these treatments, and their suitability for more widespread use in treating mild-to-moderate PTSD in geographically dispersed populations.

The findings from the research will be published in a peer-reviewed journal and be presented at relevant conferences including the annual European Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. The findings will also help shape the services Combat Stress delivers to veterans.

The grant has been awarded under FiMT’s Mental Health Research Programme (MHRP), which is run in partnership with the Centre for Mental Health and the King’s Centre for Military Health Research, part of King’s College London. This study will add to the evidence base relating to two of the MHRP’s six research priorities: the usefulness of services aimed specifically at veterans; and the efficacy of military and veteran charities to provide effective mental health support.

Ray Lock CBE, Chief Executive of Forces in Mind Trust, says: “Since the inception of Forces in Mind Trust, one of our founding priorities has been to work with partners to develop a better understanding of the mental health environment, including effective treatments, for UK ex-Service personnel. Resources though are finite, which makes it vital that a sound evidence base exists from which to inform policy makers, commissioners and service deliverers.

"This promising study could suggest a new way forward in how we manage and treat people with PTSD, particularly when they are hard to reach or may struggle to access appropriate services. We look forward to seeing and learning from the results.”

Sue Freeth, Chief Executive of Combat Stress, said: “We are delighted that Forces in Mind Trust has awarded us the grant to run a unique pilot study assessing the effectiveness of delivering tele-medicine to veterans living in remote regions. This study is the first in the UK to be done with veterans who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"We know those living in remote areas can be difficult to engage with because they are more comfortable staying at home. Through tele-medicine, we can deliver treatment and give veterans homework to do in their own time to help them rebuild their life. We will then be able to compare treatment outcomes of tele-medicine against the outcomes of conventional treatment such as face to face therapy to determine effectiveness.”