Tavistock clinic’s mental health support project for military veterans wins �400,000

The Department of Health has awarded �400,000 for a ground-breaking mental health project that helps members of the armed forces and is run with a Hampstead clinic.

Health minister Simon Burns announced funding for the project during a visit to The Tavistock Centre in Belsize Lane on Monday (May 14).

The money will be used to offer an online support network and professional counselling to veterans who will be able to remain anonymous if they wish.

The project is a joint venture between the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and the online mental well-being service, Big White Wall, a social media site for people experiencing mental health problems.

Matthew Patrick, Tavistock and Portman trust chief executive, said: “I think it’s terrific. We are all excited about it.

“This is a project which we all believe in, in terms of our commitment to mental health and well-being.”

Big White Wall was set up by social entrepreneur Jenny Hyatt in 2007 after she decided there was “a need for a forum for people to express what they were feeling”.

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It provides an anonymous confidential online site for people who are suffering mental health problems – including anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts – and offers peer-to-peer support plus support from trained professionals.

The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust became involved in the project in 2008 and jointly developed the site, helping to train and supervise staff.

A government commissioned report into support for service personnel and veterans in 2010 listed Big White Wall among its recommendations and a pilot scheme for veterans to use the site was set up last April.

Some 2,518 members of the armed forces and their families now use Big White Wall, of whom 1,007 are veterans and 881 serving personnel.

Big White Wall founder and CEO Ms Hyatt said: “The armed forces culture is about strength. Its culture is completely opposite to what we do. There’s been a rising awareness of the importance of emotional intelligence, before we end up with tragic issues such as people killing or self-harming themselves.

“On average, 20 to 25 per cent of all those on-line are having suicidal thoughts.”

Nearly half of the veterans on the site have visited a doctor for anxiety and one in three admitted to seeing a counsellor, while roughly a quarter of the serving personnel on the site have visited a doctor or been to a counsellor.

Mr Burns said “It is an extremely positive and beneficial way of breaking down the stigma attached to mental health. Breaking down that barrier is good.”