A SENSE of belonging is key to good mental health. Chronic loneliness and lack of purpose send us hurtling into ever increasing circles of depression and illness. Humans thrive on two things: the feeling that they belong and the conviction that they matter. Maybe this is why the notion of "belonging" is the ideological pivot for the British Army’s latest recruitment campaign, which was launched last week with a series of animated videos on YouTube.

The video's strap lines zoom in on feelings (as opposed to "actions"), with the promise to understand and accept our very human needs: “It’s OK to cry, have feelings and pray”, says one headline. “Find where you belong”, says another. And just in case you were in any doubt, “This is Belonging 2018” is the overarching slogan for the campaign. Like a militarised version of The Sermon On The Mount, the beneficent arms of the military are reaching out to embrace you if you are lost, feel you don’t belong, if you’re different, feel feelings or, indeed, if you’re the antithesis of superhero. Come one, come all. The army wants you.

Army recruitment has been decreasing for a number of years. The once plentiful supply of young, white, working-class males is drying up and army leaders have been forced to regroup and think creatively to source another supply chain. Currently, only 9 per cent of the British Army are female and a mere 7.5 per cent come from black, Asian and ethnic minority communities. This new campaign, with its emphasis on the psycho-emotional and social needs of potential recruits, sees the army and their marketing strategists (a London-based PR agency called Karmarama) cast a very wide net in the hope of scooping up a diverse catch that more accurately represents the UK’s current demographic.

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But maybe there’s a problem with this: people generally join the army because they want to fight and because they believe they have a role to play in protecting their country and the people in it. More than anything, armies train soldiers for active combat. Ultimately, soldiers have to be prepared to kill "the enemy". Killing another human being – even if you believe that it’s in a worthy cause – is both traumatising and life-changing. Post-combat, soldiers and veterans struggle with guilt, depression and adjustment back to "ordinary" life.

The mental health charity Combat Stress, which offers counselling, treatment and mental health advice to veterans and their families, has seen a 143 per cent increase in referrals over the last 10 years. More and more soldiers suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) both during and after active service. PTSD, where symptoms typically include flashbacks, panic attacks, depression, sleeplessness, irritability, social withdrawal and substance misuse, can be truly devastating to sufferers and their families. Until relatively recently, the adverse impact of war upon the mental health of soldiers, has been a very large, camouflaged elephant in the room. Even now, specialist support and treatment services are pretty thin on the ground and continue to struggle with inadequate levels of funding.

This makes me wonder if the current campaign is, in part, a very late acknowledgement that the fallout from army life wages its own kind of war on the mental health of soldiers and veterans. It’s a war that doesn’t end when the tour of duty is over, leaving many ex-army personnel struggling to re-find meaning and value in life.

When my son asked me what I was writing about this week and I told him that the army was trying to recruit a more diverse, atypical group of would-be soldiers (as opposed to the Action Man stereotype), he said: “Mum, it doesn’t matter what you’re like when you join the army. Their whole purpose is to break you down and re-programme you to take orders and go and fight. They make everyone the same and call it a ‘team’.”

It’s true, the army isn’t geared for self-actualisation or self-discovery. The group takes precedence over the individual. Paradoxically, it is often by working in groups that we learn the most about ourselves.

It will be interesting to see what sort of catch this latest recruitment trawl will achieve. Maybe they’ll net a lot of thoughtful folk who want to make the army a nicer place. The problem is, there’s no room for niceness on the battlefront, no matter how much in touch with your feelings you are.

When the war is over, it’s a different story. Soldiers and ex-soldiers who suffer from PTSD certainly need a lot of TLC. The sooner the military takes this to heart, the better.