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Terrorism victims ‘need better mental health support’

Support offered through government scheme is available too late

People affected by terrorism need better mental health support, research suggests.

The study, led by the Care Policy and Evaluation Centre at London School of Economics, explored the effectiveness of the Department of Health and Social Care’s Screen and Treat Programme, which was set up to identify and refer people to mental health services following terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Paris and Brussels in 2015 and 2016.

It concluded that the scheme needs to provide a better system of immediate psychological help.

Dr Eva Cyhlarova, who carried out the research, said the programme worked well in many ways, but it was available too late.

Most of the 77 people who responded to the study questionnaire said the attacks had a major impact on their lives, according to the findings published in the Journal of Health Services Research & Policy.

Many people reported anxiety, depression, difficulty going out or travelling, sleep problems, panic attacks, flashbacks and hyper-vigilance. A third had reduced their working hours and a similar proportion had taken sick leave.

Of those interviewed, two-thirds sought help from their GP before being contacted by the Screen and Treat programme, which was available about a year after the first of the terrorist attacks.

Almost all thought that their GP had not been helpful in dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or referring to appropriate care. Interviewees reported that they used help offered by organisations external to the NHS with mixed experiences.

The study found that the Screen and Treat programme was valuable but identified several areas for improvement which could inform agencies’ future planning responses.

One recommendation is that there is a system to provide immediate psychological help after a terrorist attack.

Although people who accessed support through the programme were generally satisfied with their treatment, most people thought it should have been available sooner.

Waiting times for treatment also varied from no delay to a few months.

The study found that the main reasons for slow responses were funding and data-sharing issues. Professor Martin Knapp, who led the research, said: “In future, evaluations should be embedded in the response to major incidents, with the aim of reaching the entire population of potentially affected individuals. Better understanding of people’s responses to this type of trauma over time in wider contexts (for example group contexts) would help identify other factors important for resilience and recovery to be incorporated in future responses.”