Reaction is Good but Prevention is Better

Soldier DrinkingDrinking too much? There’s a new (military) app for that, apparently…

Some suggest our country provides lack-lustre support for our military veterans, both from a government perspective but sometimes, from our society as a whole. This lack of support (actual or perceived), has a tendency to leave individuals ‘self-medicating’ their issues with heavy alcohol consumption. But new resources are emerging. The following initiative is one such example of new and innovative support.

The Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) are working with the University of Liverpool, to provide new support for Military Veterans, who have problematic and unhealthy relationships with alcohol. By developing and trialling a new veteran-specific smartphone app, they aim to help ex-service personnel reduce their alcohol consumption.

Distinguishing it from similar products, this app was co-designed with ex-Service personnel and uses military terminology, language and content. It also offers feedback and generates tailored text messaging. The app adapts to users’ needs with a novel personalisation framework which focuses on short-term consequences such as impact on fitness, mood, relationships and finances which helps motivate ex-Service personnel to reduce their alcohol consumption. The trial will be the first time an app aimed at UK ex-Service personnel has been academically tested. (www.liverpool.ac.uk)

“This is an exciting project that aims to support ex-Service personnel with alcohol difficulties by testing the use of an app-based treatment package that will allow individuals to access support digitally 24 hours a day at a time and location that suits them.” (Dr Dominic Murphy, project lead, Combat Stress)

Whether our support improvements come from social or political embarrassment is mostly immaterial, what matters to those in need is; we are finally recognising, responding and supporting the specific issues that are faced by our armed forces community. Personnel that as a result of ‘institutionalised’ and historic cultural differences, often face problems that are not normally experienced within the civilian community.

But, despite the probable worth of this ‘new’ smartphone resource, I’m still concerned that our focus (nearly always) revolves around reactive solutions to problems. For all manner of reasons, we have a social/political tendency to ignore or dismiss preventative measures and responses… usually for financial reasons. As a society, we’re not very good at investing in the future.

Stable Doors & Bolting Horses

Any ‘tool’ that supports people to improve their management of alcohol use has to be useful however; ‘problematic’ alcohol consumption – particularly (but not exclusively) amongst the Armed Forces Community – would benefit from being addressed at the front-end. Too often, we look at all these problematic issues from a reactive perspective, rather than exploring and adopting more proactive and preventative measures.

Reaction to a problem is good, especially when it supports effective change however; I can’t help but see this as closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. I can see the overall value and worth potential in this resource but we should be guarded against seeing it as another proverbial Emperor’s New Clothes of academia.

The military have started to address many of those historic factors that previously promoted a heavy drinking culture amongst their personnel. But, for me, I would still like to see even greater investment and resources ploughed into preventative measures.

We need to do more to address known physical and mental health problems experienced by military personnel. These are people who work within environments that, all be it to a far lesser degree than in the past, actually still promote / support heavy alcohol consumption. That organisational culture sits behind the emerging issues of later life, presenting negative impacts for people after they have served. These factors are far more difficult to address and change, when they have been ingrained for long periods.

Once these trials are complete, assuming evidence supports efficacy, I would like to see some additional development and provision for serving personnel, not just military veterans. Let’s start supporting people to make healthy lifestyle changes… before their problems actually require fixing!