RAF charity launches scheme to improve personnel’s mental wellbeing

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A multimillion-pound scheme launched by a Royal Air Force charity will fund support for RAF personnel who are struggling with their mental wellbeing.

Research by the RAF Benevolent Fund found that half of respondents (52%) had experienced social isolation, and 42% of their partners said loneliness had been a problem for them.

As part of the initiative, the RAF will fund access to the mindfulness app Headspace and pilot workshops and seminars.

The Meeting the Needs of the Serving RAF Community report, which reached almost 10% of serving personnel, is to be launched in the House of Commons on Thursday.

The research said moving stations, distance from close relatives and deployments all contributed to feelings of social isolation.

Of the 3,057 respondents, 76% of personnel said they prefer to deal with their problems alone rather than seek help, and 39% said they had been too embarrassed to seek help in the past.

Relationship difficulties were also a top concern highlighted in the research, with 27% of personnel saying they had experienced marriage or relationship issues in recent years.

To tackle this, the fund will pilot wellbeing breaks for RAF families across the UK.

Some of the project will be delivered through grant funding, while other programmes will be tested to ensure they work before rolling them out.

Warrant Officer Jon Sykes, 48, signed up to use Headspace during the fund’s pilot scheme and has completed 6,000 hours of mindfulness since then.

He said: “Everybody has busy lives and what I felt was lacking in my own life was the tools to balance all of those demands.

“Now it has become a routine, as routine as breakfast or brushing my teeth. It has become a regular part of my day.

“There are lots of thoughts people have and lots of external influences, this app puts them in a language you can understand, using graphics and animations.

“It helps to put those thoughts into context and understand why you react to those thoughts.

“In short, Headspace has taught me not to sweat the small stuff.”

Air Vice-Marshal David Murray, chief executive of the RAF Benevolent Fund, said: “If we didn’t know it already, this project has reminded us that RAF personnel and their families demonstrate incredible resilience on a daily basis, as they wrestle with the challenges of modern-day Service life.

“However, given the increasing complexity of some of the issues faced, there remains a requirement for targeted support to assist serving RAF families during periods of need.

“Working closely with the RAF, the fund has developed a package of practical initiatives that will make a real difference to the lives of RAF personnel and their families in the areas that have emerged from the research.”

In the opening of the report, Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson said: “The extensive support that the charity currently has in place is already impressive and highly regarded by both myself and the Chief of the Air Staff.

“But the additional projects the Fund has committed to develop in the coming years, in direct response to this report, will make a substantive difference to RAF personnel and their families in need and distress.”

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