More British soldiers and veterans committed suicide last year than were killed in battle, it has been reported.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that in 2012 seven serving soldiers were confirmed to have killed themselves, while a further 14 died in suspected suicides but inquests had yet to be held.
The Government does not record suicides among former soldiers, but an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama found at least 29 veterans also took their own lives last year.
The 50 suicides compares with 40 soldiers who died in action in Afghanistan during the same period.
A spokesman for the MoD said suicide among members of the Armed Forces remains “extremely rare” and is lower than comparative rates in the civilian population.
Panorama said it wrote to every coroner in the country to ask for the names of soldiers and veterans who killed themselves last year and also analysed newspaper reports of coroners’ inquests.
Lance Sergeant Dan Collins who survived a bomb blast while serving in Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2009, killed himself while still a serving soldier on New Year’s Eve 2011 after suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the BBC reported.
His mother Deana told Panorama her son was a “victim of war” and his name should be added to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire which honours the military casualties of every conflict since WWII.
“Soldiers with PTSD are exactly the same. They’re victims of war and they should be treated exactly the same,” she said.
An MoD spokesman said: “Every suicide is a tragedy and our thoughts remain with the families of all those who have sadly taken their own lives.
“Mental health of our personnel and veterans is a top priority for the Government, that is why we have committed £7.4 million to ensure there is extensive mental health support in place for everyone who needs it.
“Medical experts and clinicians working in our Armed Forces and across the NHS are committed to providing the best possible care to all those that have bravely served their country and to ensuring a smooth transition from the Armed Forces into the NHS.”
Commodore Andrew Cameron, chief executive of Combat Stress, said: “Every suicide by a soldier or veteran is one too many but 50 in one year is desperately sad. Our thoughts go out to the families and friends affected.
“If confirmed, these figures remind us that serving in the Armed Forces can be very traumatic and can result in psychological as well as physical wounds.
“The priority now needs to be to ensure that the NHS must have a greater understanding of how to support soldiers and veterans suffering from Service-related mental ill-health.
“The NHS and emergency services are generally the first organisations to have contact with a veteran in emotional turmoil. We are working with the NHS to increase awareness and improve responsiveness to veterans who need help and treatment when they are in crisis.
“Moreover, priority needs to be maintained on ensuring that serving personnel and veterans are educated about the signs of mental trauma and where to seek help. Identifying those in need and preventing suicides can be incredibly difficult.
“A greater focus should be placed on identifying soldiers and veterans suffering in silence with mental wounds so they can get the help and support required before it is too late.”
:: The Panorama special, Broken By Battle, will be broadcast on BBC One tonight at 9pm.
The charity Walking With The Wounded said it wants to improve awareness of mental injuries to encourage those who suffer them to seek help.
Chief executive and co-founder Edward Parker said: “The issues raised in the BBC programme are very real.
“Walking With The Wounded is striving to provide support to those with mental injury. We believe that having a job provides these individuals a greater degree of security for them and their families, which ensures the stresses they are under are reduced. And it is vital employers fully understand about the impact and symptoms of mental injury and provide the appropriate support to those they employ.”
The charity’s consultant psychologist Vanessa Lewis said: “Ex-servicemen and women can sometimes endure debilitating psychological symptoms (some for many years) without coming forward for support, so we need to ensure that if and when they ask for it, the treatment which is available is provided consistently and quickly.”