Armed forces mental health

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Let’s Talk | Morson sit down with veterans Andy and Craig to discuss their experiences with PTSD and mental health in the army

Jessica Tabinor Morson ambassadors

Armed forces mental health

It’s Armed Forces Day on Saturday 30th June.  With the UK government finally recognising the need to increase armed forces mental health funding, by committing an extra £220 million over the next decade, Morson sat down with Veterans Andy Reid, Morson Forces Ambassador, and Craig Monaghan, Social Inclusion Officer at Sale Sharks Community Trust to discuss their experiences with PTSD and mental illnesses.  

Although their mental health challenges stem from incidents which occurred during their time in the army, the coping mechanisms they use to overcome their issues may be useful for all. 

Both Andy and Craig fought in Afghanistan and, in separate events, sustained life-changing injuries which meant their time as soldiers tragically came to an end. Since then, Andy has gone on to defy all odds and is now a motivational speaker and ambassador to a number of organisations. During his recovery, Craig has been a keen fundraiser and charity volunteer, he has represented his county playing for England Deaf Rugby and set himself many inspiring challenges along the way.

But with 7 people being medically discharged from the Armed Forces every day, what help is out there? We speak to Andy and Craig to find out their experiences with PTSD and mental illness. 

Have any of your fellow ex-servicemen suffered from PTSD or other mental illness?

Andy: I think all ex-servicemen will experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at some stage in their lives, it may not be immediately after leaving the army, it could be whilst they are still serving in the armed forces or it could be as long as 20, 30 or 40 years later. I think it’s just down to the individual really and it depends on where you’ve served and what you’ve done. But I think at some point throughout your life, all servicemen will suffer from PTSD, in my opinion.

Whilst some people may not experience some of the symptoms of PTSD for some years after leaving the armed forces, similarly, due to the culture of the armed forces, some people may delay seeking help for a number of years after they leave. Veterans may decide at the time that they can cope, they may have a fear of criticism or feel that a therapist will not understand or be able to relate to their problems.

Craig: My opinion is the same, I think especially for people serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan era. Even the lads that weren’t heavily engaged in the fighting, they still had that risk of I.E.D threat and even the lads that never came across I.E.D’s, they still had the threat of every step that they took could result in injury or worse.

But it doesn’t just stop there, I see quite a lot of veterans who were never deployed to a conflict where there was so much fighting or they were heavily engaged by the enemy or anything. Their problems started after the transition period as the military can be a massive bubble. It’s very warm and cuddly, you’re living with your mates, doing what you want and there’s a lot of freedom. Then on the outside, it’s a lot different and I think a lot of lads struggle with the social isolation of getting out [of the army], in terms of they’ve not got their buddies across the hallway from them so then they feel a bit lonely.

Over the course of Armed Forces week, approximately 49 soldiers will have their lives changed forever. Above, Craig touched on the social isolation some soldiers feel when they leave the army in terms of not having friends across the corridor. This type of anxiety can affect all aspects of a veteran’s life and even stretch to worrying about future employment. A lot of the servicemen will never have been to a job interview, never had to write a CV or sit in an office.

What professional mental health support did you receive when you left the army?

Andy: For myself, when I was down at Headley Court [Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre] we used to sit down with a mental health specialist as part of our weekly programme and they would just ask if you are having any thoughts at the moment or ask you how you’re dealing with the situation etc.

I’ve not looked for any professional help at the minute, I find talking to friends and colleagues who I’ve served with and I’ve met some fantastic civilians along the way who are now close friends, chatting to them really helps me move forward.

One of the main themes highlighted when talking to Andy and Craig was how much simply talking can help. Both for Army Veterans and the general public, whether that be with a doctor, colleague, family member or friend, sharing your experiences, feelings and fears can be that be that first step to tackling mental health head-on.

Craig: I engaged with several charities both whilst I was still in the army and afterwards, my hand was sort of forced to speak to people but I never really addressed [my problems], I’d just sit there in silence. It wasn’t the fact that I didn’t want to speak, it was probably just that I just wasn’t ready. So I think I engaged with it too early, I think that’s really important.

Whereas now, every now and again I will engage with professional help but I see people around me as my support too. I’m still in a WhatsApp group with everyone that I was with [in Afghanistan] and even this morning we were just chucking abuse at each other and that sort of thing gets me through probably more than anything.

What have been the main things that have helped you to overcome your mental health challenges? 

Andy: On the anniversary of me being injured I like to do something special. I’ve climbed Snowdon on the anniversary, one time we were in San Francisco on holiday, this year I’ll be christening my little girl. I like to do something memorable so I’m not remembering back 13th October I was in Afghanistan, I’m remembering back to the 13th October last year when I was in San Francisco. It makes it a bit more of a happy time to remember rather than going back to that day. 

There are a number of charities which can provide help and support for veterans suffering from their mental health which include:

  • SSAFA - A charity that provides lifelong emotional and practical support for active armed forces personnel.
  • Combat Stress - The charity offers a range of mental health treatment and support services for veterans.
  • MIND - Provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem.
  • Veterans Gateway - They put veterans and their families in touch with the organisations best placed to help with the information, advice and support they need 

Watch the full video to see Andy and Craig talking about their own personal journey with mental health.