Former Staff Sergeant Paul Minter, who served with the heir to the throne and the Duke of Sussex in Afghanistan, said the military “opened their eyes” to the mental health issues armed forces personnel face. Former Staff Sergeant Paul Minter, who served with the heir to the throne and the Duke of Sussex in Afghanistan, said the military “opened their eyes” to the mental health issues armed forces personnel face.
The former British Army Staff Sergeant is now calling on Rishi Sunak to legislate for better support for those leaving the military to help them normalise back into civilised society, after seeing fifteen of his fellow comrades take their own lives and overcoming his own struggles with paranoia. Both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Sussex have made mental health the focus of much of their charitable work.
In 2016, along with Kate, the Princess of Wales, the two set up Heads Together, a destigmatising mental health campaign. Prince William said that “we have seen time and time again that unresolved mental health problems lie at the heart of some of our greatest social challenges”. SSgt Minter served in the same regiment – the Household Cavalry, D Squadron – as the now-Prince of Wales between 2006 and 2008 while in Afghanistan, where he said the two took part in daily exercises and work for a few months together.
Though Prince Harry served in a different regiment of the Household Cavalry, SSgt Minter had “a few conversations” with the Duke, who “was a very, very charming person, [a] very nice guy – and he’s done so much for the armed forces with Invictus Games.” He told Express.co.uk: “Being in the armed forces certainly opened their eyes. But they’re both very worldly people.
“I think even before joining the armed forces, they were very aware of mental health – and the struggles out there, especially with their mum [Princess Diana] and how public and open she was with everything.” SSgt Minter, who has since set up a charity to help current and former military personnel with their struggles with mental health, added: “We fully back both of them as individuals, and we’d love to be doing something with them at some point.”
Asked if having someone in line to the throne who was acutely aware of the mental health issues among armed services personnel might bring about the support being called for, he said: “Without doubt, certainly. “Although they are separate – the Government and the Crown – they are hugely influential people. They wouldn’t be getting behind a charity if the Government were doing what they needed to do.
“And they’re both founders of charities, they both get behind multiple different armed forces charities to help people, so I think the more they do it, the more they publicise it, the more pressure that does get on the Government too.” Colonel Richard Kemp, who spent three decades in the British Army and commanded Operation Fignal in Afghanistan, agreed: “That’s an extremely important point, and it applies not just to mental health; it applies to all of the other problems that service people face.
“The military charities do very good work and they’re valuable, but there should not be a complete dependence on them. The Government that sent them to war has an enduring responsibility for looking after them aside from the charities.” However, he added that armed forces charities “serve a dual role in a way. One is they do look after ex-servicepeople, and two is that they give civilians who donate to them to connect with the forces and directly support them. I think maintaining those links to a decreasing armed forces is a valuable thing.”
Though Prince Harry handed back his military titles and patronages after stepping back as a full-time royal, he continues to undertake work for the Invictus Games, a sporting event for injured servicemen and women. After serving in the Blues and Royals, Prince William became a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF and later an air ambulance pilot. He currently holds the rank of British Army Major, Lieutenant Commander of the Royal Navy and Squadron Leader of the RAF.
Col Kemp said the stigma around declaring mental health issues was “still an issue of concern” for members of the armed forces, and that physical illness was “maybe seen as a more honourable illness than mental health [issues]”. He added: “That’s not just in the forces, it’s pretty much everywhere – but it applies more in the forces.” Col Kemp said that those who developed mental health issues until long after leaving the armed forces found it a lot more difficult to access it, adding: “If you don’t know about dedicated military healthcare you end up in the civilian psychiatric system, and very often it’s much harder – the NHS often doesn’t understand or recognise your particular issues you’ve sustained during service.”
The British Army commander said part of the issue was “not necessarily a lack of will on the part of the Ministry of Defence to help”, but that many veterans “don’t know or understand the system that exists. One remedy is better briefing when you leave what the options are.” SSgt Minter said of his time serving with the two Princes: “They were just very chilled, very relaxed, and thoughtful Household Cavalry regiment officers.
“They brought a new, a new air of grace and calm to the regiment, because they were just a lot more chilled and relaxed than the typical Household Cavalry officer. And it was nice to see.” A spokesperson for Royal British Legion – which supports veterans, including with their mental health – said the charity “understands how important the issue of mental health is for our Armed Forces community and we will always be there to support serving personnel, veterans and their families, facing mental health challenges.
“The Government made a commitment in the Armed Forces Covenant to ensure all those who serve in the Armed Forces, and their families, are able to access specialist mental health support. We hope the new Armed Forces Covenant Duty, which requires public bodies to take the needs of the Armed Forces community into account when providing services, will lead to improvements in mental health care for veterans.” In a statement, Johnny Mercer, the Veterans’ Minister, said: “Supporting the mental health of all those who have served in our armed forces is a priority for this Government.
“I encourage anyone who is struggling to reach out. Help is available through Op Courage, which is a specialist NHS mental health service for serving personnel, reservists, armed forces veterans and their families. “To date, Op Courage has received more than 24,000 referrals and just this year we invested £22 million for veteran-specific mental health services. We will continue to do everything we can to support those who have served in our armed forces.”