There has been a “significant increase” in the number of UK veterans of the Afghanistan conflict seeking mental health treatment, says a charity.Combat Stress said it had received 358 new Afghanistan veteran referrals in 2013, compared with 228 in 2012.
The charity, currently supporting more than 660 Afghanistan veterans, said the issue would become heightened as UK forces prepared to leave the country.
The government said it had invested £7.4m on mental health services.
Combat Stress said it had found that veterans generally waited an average of 13 years after serving before they sought help, but this had fallen to an average of 18 months for Afghanistan veterans.
The mental health charity said its total caseload of more than 5,400 veterans across the UK was the largest in its 95-year history.
It offers free clinical treatment programmes at its specialist centres, community and outreach support, occupational therapy (which includes occupational health and rehabilitation) and a 24-hour helpline.
Its chief executive, Cmdr Andrew Cameron, said: “A small, yet significant number of veterans who serve in the armed forces each year continue to relive the horrors they experienced on the front line. Day in, day out, they battle these hidden psychological wounds, often tearing families apart in the process.”
He said 20% of veterans were like to suffer from mental ill health and needed specialist support, adding that the charity was planning to provide services at the same level for the next five years as demand was not expected to fall.
“We cannot allow the ex-servicemen and women who suffer from the invisible injuries of war to go unnoticed and untreated. This is an unnecessary drain on society and our veterans and families deserve better,” he added.
The Ministry of Defence said it had invested £7.4m to improve mental health services and ensure they were available for everyone who needed them.
A spokeswoman said: “We want to further reduce the stigma of mental illness, encouraging even more people to come forward, and we will continue to work closely with Combat Stress to help veterans access the wide range of support available.”