71 military personnel and veterans have taken their lives in 2018, ITV News understands

  • Video report by ITV News correspondent Paul Davies

As families across the country prepare to spend Christmas with their loved ones, for the families of the 71 serving military personnel and veterans who took their own lives in 2018 following mental health struggles, a rather different and more painful day approaches.

The death toll exceeds the number of battlefield fatalities in 11 of the 13 years that British troops were in Afghanistan, ITV News can reveal.

The research - compiled by ITV News with the help of veterans' organisations - found more than one third who took their own lives this year, and whose details are known, had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.

Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.

One such sufferer was Warrant Officer Nathan Hunt who took his life on New Year's Day - the first in a long line of military suicides this year.

Nathan Hunt took his own life on New Year's Day. Credit: Family handout

Following the death of their son, Nathan's parents say they have "cancelled Christmas this year".

"We just couldn't sit there around the table, with our other sons and grandkids and celebrate, knowing that he was 10 minutes down the road lying cold in a grave," his father Derek, told ITV News.

"We just couldn't bring ourselves to do it."

Like Nathan, 31-year-old Corporal Mathew Shillito also suffered from PTSD.

The father from Leicestershire killed himself on October 1 - the 34th veteran or serving military personnel to kill themselves this year - having made previous attempts on his own life.

Mathew Shillito had made several attempts to take his own life. Credit: Family handout

Mathew's mother Tracey believes her son and other military personnel who have taken their own lives after suffering from PTSD have been "let down" by the country.

"He didn't kill himself, the Army didn't kill him, it was PTSD that killed him because there isn't enough information out there to fight it," his father Paul told ITV News.

Ms Shillito recalls how her son asked for help before taking his own life: "He kept saying to me: 'I'm not safe Mum, I'm not safe, I don't feel safe, I know I'm going to do something'.

"I rang the mental health unit and I said: 'I need him sectioning' and they said 'no, we have to have two doctors to section him, and they don't think there's a problem'."

Mathew's parents are dreading Christmas too.

"I'm expecting him to walk through the door and give me his card," Ms Shillito says.

"But I know that he won't. I can't do anything. I don't want a birthday or Christmas, I just want him back."

Just one week after Mathew died, during an eight-day period from October 7 to 16, a shocking eight serving military personnel or veterans took their own lives.

One such death was Lance Corporal Dave Jukes who took his own life on October 9 after suffering from PTSD and acute depression.

Dave Jukes struggled with PTSD and acute depression. Credit: Family handout

Dave's wife Jo has been campaigning for more effective help for those suffering from PTSD since her husband's death.

Speaking to ITV News in October, just a week after her husband killed himself, Ms Jukes said the impact of leaving the Army and the mental scars the 49-year-old had collected from a life of service took a toll greater than the antidepressants prescribed by a GP could combat.

She alleged the family had been repeatedly let down and they were "passed from pillar to post" as they tried to get help for Dave, from the GP, the local health authority, the Ministry of Defence and veterans' charities.

Dave and Jo Jukes on their wedding day. Credit: Family handout

More than two moths later, Ms Jukes doesn't believe anything has changed "because if it had got better, there wouldn't be the amount of suicides that there still are.

"I mean, he [Dave] was number 49 and that was two-and-a-bit-months-ago, and now it's at 71."

Ms Jukes is seeking help, not just for the serving troops and veterans suffering from PTSD, but for their families as well.

She said: "There is a ripple effect of people who are affected by that [suicide], so it's not just the wife, it's not just the mum and the dad, there's children, there's aunties, there's brothers, there's sisters, there's friends.

"If you put all of the families of those affected by the suicides in one place together, you would probably need a stadium."

Mr Shillito added he was now speaking out in a bid to help others in a similar position to his son.

While Mr Hunt called on the Government to take the mental health of veterans more "seriously".

"If we can get that information out there that saves one person, then it's worth it," he told ITV News.

  • What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.

Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.

They may also have problems sleeping, such as insomnia, and find concentrating difficult.

PTSD can develop immediately after someone experiences a disturbing event or it can occur weeks, months or even years later.

PTSD is estimated to affect about one in every three people who have a traumatic experience, but it's not clear exactly why some people develop the condition and others don't.

A Government spokesperson said, in a joint statement it takes the mental wellbeing of service personnel and veterans "extremely seriously".

However, Jim Wilde from Veterans United Against Suicide, said: "Until the Government and Ministry of Defence address this issue with the respect and dignity it deserves, we will work tirelessly to raise the awareness, because the fallen deserve nothing less."

What to do if you or someone you know needs help:

  • If you are in distress or need some support, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 116 123 or through their website.

  • Veterans' mental health charity Combat Stress is available 24 hours a day on 0800 138 1619 for veterans and their families, 0800 323 444 for serving personnel and their families, via text on 07537 404719, or through their website.

  • Veterans' charity SSAFA is available on 0800 731 4880 or through their website.

  • The Government's Veterans' Gateway offers advice and help for veterans seeking support and can be contacted on 0800 802 1212 or through the website.

  • Mind offers a helpline on 0300 123 3393 from 9am to 6pm.

  • Rock 2 Recovery - which helps veterans suffering from stress and their families - can be contacted on 01395 220072 Monday to Friday between 9am and 4pm, emailed at Support@rock2recovery.co.uk or through their website.

  • If you have lost a loved one in the military to suicide you can contact Jo Jukeswho has created a private support group