Armed forces support service receives vital funding boost

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The Big White Wall, an armed forces support service, has received a funding boost from the Government Photo:

A problem shared is a problem halved. Well in the case of Big White Wall, the online mental wellbeing service, the aim is to share the problem many times over, so that it ends up a fraction of the size it was.

The money that it received from the Government today will be put to vital use.

Big White Wall launched its Armed Forces support service last year. Since then more than two and a half thousand people have registered with it, or, to use the website's parlance, 'gone on the Wall'.

The Wall is anonymous, so as to overcome the stigma which so often surrounds mental health issues. It invites new users to share their problems with other sufferers, and then it offers a range of treatments and therapies which can all be accessed online.

The mental health professionals who run the site say they've been overwhelmed by the response, and that they think they've reached people that they would never otherwise have reached.

The Big White Wall says those who have used the site since it launched last Autumn include:

  • 2,500 users
  • Serving personnel: 36% (64% males)
  • Veterans: 42% (84% males)
  • Families: 22% (88% males)
  • Uptake has predominantly been within the 25-44 age range
  • 50% of those registered had not sought help elsewhere (e.g. from a GP)

People like Taz. Taz is a veteran of Bosnia and Iraq who, years after he left the army, began to feel that he couldn't cope.

There was a rage within him which frightened him, and members of his family.

He says the Big White Wall saved his life. The revelation that he was not alone in his despair, that there were other people just like him, gave him the strength to carry on.

The website could help any number of military personnel, serving and retired, in the months and years to come. But it does require people to admit they have a problem, and ask for help. If there's one thing I have learnt while making our series, 'The Forgotten Fallen', it's that very often those who are most in need are least likely to reach out.

Lee Bonsall was a 24-year-old veteran of Afghanistan who hanged himself at home two months ago. In the weeks after his death his mum told us that she had never heard of the Big White Wall, and wished that she had.

After today's annoucement of extra funds she questioned whether a website was really provision enough. Tough young soldiers, or ex-soldiers, she says, aren't going to seek out an opportunity to tell someone that they're frightened, or in pain. Somebody has to ask them.

Lee's loved ones want an overhaul of the process through which people leave the army, with both the health and social services involved, checking up on individual who might be at risk.

We know that it is young veterans who are especially vulnerable to suicidal thoughts.

And we know that admitting to a mental health problem takes a good deal of courage. A different kind of courage to the kind you need to storm an insurgent position in Afghanistan, but courage nonetheless.

The people at Big White Wall want everybody who leaves the Armed Forces to be issued with a plastic card with their web address printed on it.

It takes a brave heart to step out on patrol in Afghanistan, some of those who make it back will have to be brave again, and get online.