Actor and broadcaster Ross Kemp has hit out at the “negative portrayal” in dramas of soldiers with mental health issues.
The 57-year-old said stereotypes on television, in films and in the wider media are having a profound effect on current and former armed forces personnel, particularly those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Kemp, who became a household name playing EastEnders hardman Grant Mitchell, who had PTSD, is backing a campaign by military charity Help for Heroes to change the portrayal of veterans on screen.
He told the PA news agency: “(Stereotypes are) having a real negative impact on people that have served their country.
“They’re brave enough to come forward and admit they’ve got an issue, which is often very difficult for people.
“Drama needs drama, obviously, otherwise it’s not interesting.
“But there seems to be a continuous portrayal of service personnel with mental health issues that often result in negative outcomes.”
Help for Heroes said it does not expect TV programmes and films to be completely devoid of dramatic moments involving members of the armed forces, but rather to give context by using “trigger warnings” when there is an exaggerated portrayal of veteran mental health, and using a “broader, more representative spectrum” of storylines.
Kemp, who won a best factual series Bafta for Ross Kemp On Gangs in 2006, said: “Please don’t discount these people.
“As soon as you see PTSD, there is an image that is forming in your head automatically of somebody that hides under the bed or camouflages up at night, and that is not the truth – that is an image that has been perpetuated in dramas.
“And we want to come away from that and show you what the reality is, which is that people who are suffering from mental health issues and are coping with them are very valued members of society.”
Veterans said they have had trouble getting mortgages, have been overlooked for civilian jobs, and even been kicked off dating sites after disclosing they had a PTSD diagnosis.
Jay Saunders, a former Royal Navy lieutenant commander with PTSD, described the characterisation of servicemen and women as often “lazy stereotyping”.
The 53-year-old, from Gosport in Hampshire, said: “The general public when they hear of PTSD and added with ‘veteran’, the first thing they think of is violence.
“My PTSD came from humanitarian aid. I was not even armed (on deployment in Sierra Leone).
“But the label is ‘You’re military, therefore you’ve killed, and when you flashback, you’re gonna kill again’.”
He said PTSD has actually brought unexpected positives, including giving him greater empathy, and forming an archery community for wounded and sick veterans.
Trevor Cowell, 39, who served with units including the Royal Army Medical Corps during nearly two decades in the military, said: “All you want is for people to see you in a positive light, because you still feel that you’re representing your cap badge.
“But the negative portrayal encourages you to be even more insular because if that’s what people automatically think about PTSD, then you don’t want to discuss it with people.
“If you say you have been in a car accident and you have PTSD, I think people treat you more sympathetically than if you have PTSD from being in the forces, and I’d love that misconception to change.”