Veteran with PTSD speaks out about his struggle

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It is only in recent years that the severity and impact of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has begun to be recognised.

However, despite the growing number of sufferers, help and support is somewhat limited, especially in Northern Ireland, much to the frustration of one local man.

Adam, who is a former soldier, has experienced mental health issues since he was young.

But it was only when he left the army and he found himself without his military support network that the extent of his problems became apparent.

“My PTSD started in 2006 but looking back the doctors think I had issues before that,” explained Adam.

“I was 16-and-a-half when I enlisted in the army. I was sort of forced into it. After my exams my parents threw me out and I went to live with my grandparents. Understandably, they couldn’t afford to keep me and the army was my only option. I had been brought up in a military background so it felt like the safest thing to do because it was all I ever knew. It was exciting and I thought it would be an adventure.”

The day after his 18th birthday, Adam found himself stationed in South Armagh, and during his 22 years in the army, he served three tours in Northern Ireland, as well as in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq.

During his service Adam dealt with his mental health issues the way many in the army did, with black humour and alcohol.

But when he left the army, he no longer had his comrades beside him to help and he spiralled down into a pit of guilt, fear, and paranoia, which had a devastating impact, not only on himself but on his family and friends, who also struggled to cope.

“It was heartbreaking to leave the army,” he continued. “I didn’t want to leave but it was the end of my service and there was no extension offered. I wasn’t ready to leave,

“Initially there was excitement at being a civilian and the freedom that brings but it felt like it was something that should have come much later in life. I felt I had a good 15 years I could have committed to the army. My emotions were all over the place.

“My first sense that I was in trouble was when I was in the army and had depression but it was brushed aside. You just dealt with it by drinking with your friends.

“But when you come out of the army you don’t have that support network anymore.

“The threat you felt when you were serving was dealt with by the people you served with but when you come out that’s taken from you and it is very hard to feel safe.

“I didn’t feel safe going out. I was constantly alert, I would go to bed at 10 and then be up at midnight doing security checks in the house. I was extremely angry and I didn’t want to see anyone. I made myself a prisoner in my own home.

“When I got out I just thought I was depressed because I had left the army and that it would go away, But it didn’t go away,

My wife and friends saw changes in me. And eventually my brother, who had done fundraising for Combat Stress, told me I needed help.”

It was only then that the extent of his mental health issues became apparent and Adam struggled to find the support he needed.

His first port of call was his GP, who referred him to the psychiatric department at the Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn, who then referred him to Combat Stress, a mental health charity for veterans. Within a week Adam had a visit from a Combat Stress support worker.

And it was then that he learnt that one support worker in Northern Ireland dealt with over 600 veterans in need of help.

Unfortunately, while Combat Stress have a diagnostic centre in Belfast, veterans have to travel to Scotland for treatment.

It was whilst he was at Combat Stress in Scotland that Adam tapped into his artistic side to help him deal with his PTSD.

“I have taken up art through Combat Stress and it has really helped,” continued Adam. “It stops you thinking because you just become so engrossed in what you are doing. It gives your brain peace for a couple of hours.

“I can talk about my trauma more now and the memories are not as raw. I think I will always carry guilt but I can face up to things that happened a lot more now. You don’t think talking about the trauma will help but it does.”

Adam is appealing for the government to take urgent action to help veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental health issues.

“I strongly believe there is going to be a massive mental health boom because a lot of guys who served in Afghanistan aren’t going to feel the effects for another 10 years. The government need to deal with it now or there is going to be an explosion of veterans suffering in Northern Ireland with nowhere to go and no-one to talk to.

“I think the government should hang their heads in shame at the disgraceful lack of support there is for people. They have abandoned veterans.”

Adam is keen to set up support groups in barracks in Northern Ireland, where both serving personnel and veterans can meet to talk through any issues or concerns.

He also has a heartfelt appeal for anyone who is suffering from PTSD or mental health issues. “It is about time that any veteran, ex-policeman, paramedic or anyone that deals with trauma, can feel comfortable talking about their issues,” said Adam.

“The NHS here is brilliant. The first step is to go to your GP. If you feel you can’t talk to your GP then contact Combat Stress and you will get the support you need straight away.

“It is all about taking baby steps but for anyone suffering I want them to know there is hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

l Find out more about the work of Combat Stress at www.combatstress.org.uk.