From peacekeeping to providing humanitarian aid, from enforcing anti-terrorism measures to helping combat the international drugs trade, UK military personnel are often sent on short-term deployments to emergency situations with little time for UK rest and recuperation.
The military expects its personnel to be prepared from a public and occupational health perspective, whilst recognising travel and tropical health risks.
Some deployments require personnel to move at short notice, in some circumstances within as little as 5 days. This raises difficulties especially regarding what preparation is recommended and what can actually be achieved.
The non-combat related risks faced by UK military personnel are similar to those faced by other travellers to similar destinations.
UK military operations are in many ways akin to exploration or research expeditions and on some occasions, its personnel have carried out relief work as during the recent UK military deployment to Sierra Leone in September 2014 as part of the government’s response to the Ebola outbreak.
Military personnel may operate in small teams and deploy to multiple locations over a short period of time making a diagnosis of infectious diseases challenging as their travel can be within the incubation periods of many travel health related diseases.
The potential illnesses, however, are similar to those faced by expedition team members or multi-destination travellers. All military personnel are briefed in advance to possible risks and are supported on return by their own general practice, occupational, environmental or public health services.
Recent operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone have exposed personnel to high-stress environments with many witnessing trauma on a regular basis. Military deaths in Northern Ireland were around 300 to 400 over 30 years while in Afghanistan there were more than 400 deaths in 9 years.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD) in those returning from combat areas has increased and a significant period of time may elapse before clinical presentation and symptoms can develop or recur when personnel return to the operational environment.
It is not unique to the military and is increasingly recognised as a widespread problem in relation to stressful situations.
The features of post-traumatic stress are not unique to the condition but if several of the features in the list are present it should be considered, especially if the sufferer can identify a trigger experience.
Support services available include those from counsellors such as padres, line managers, and trauma risk management practitioners.
It is estimated that 1 in 2 people experience serious stress some time in their lives and 20% go on to develop post-traumatic stress See PTSD UK for more information