Colonel: I pointed the pistol at myself ... then my dad came into my head

A former Army officer who is thought to be the most senior person in the forces to disclose his battle with post traumatic stress disorder, has assured sufferers that 'there is hope' and that he has been able to get his 'normal' personality back.

Friday, 20th July 2018, 10:30 am
Updated Friday, 20th July 2018, 4:38 pm
Col Philip Ingram from Co Tyrone, overcame post traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts

Fifty-three-year-old Colonel Philip Ingram, who is originally from Tyrone but now lives in Birmingham, was the most senior British Army intelligence officer in western Iraq in 2005 when a combination of pressures wore him down to crisis point.

Flying across the sector by Chinook on an advance reconnaissance mission, his helicopter was just coming in to land.

“Suddenly a cold shiver went down my back and I just had this feeling, I have to phone back to Basra to the guy I was taking over from,” he said.

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He discovered that a convoy coming out of Basra had suffered a bomb attack and that a close friend had been killed and three other soldiers were seriously injured, one of whom he had known personally.

At the same time his marriage was breaking down and he got a phone call from Germany telling him his wife had emptied their marital home.

“I was emotionally completely and utterly exhausted and I had never started an operation before completely and utterly drained.”

As the senior intelligence officer his job was to predict and disrupt enemy attacks. “So every time someone got killed or injured, I took that very personally.”

One evening about 11.30pm he was still working as usual in his office, having been up from around 5.30am.

He thought he would clean his pistol before retiring, but instead pointed it at himself.

“I thought – I can’t deal with this anymore. At that instant a picture of my father came into my head and he said something to me.”

He then considered what impact suicide might have on his soldiers who would find him, and put his pistol away. He was “only microseconds” away from taking his life.

The family pressures continued and he lost 13 people, partly through a helicopter being shot down. “That was another one of my flashback incidents.”

“There was the feeling of keeping the stiff upper lip ... I was the commanding officer and then being promoted to a full colonel, it is not the sort of thing senior officers show. You don’t show weakness.”

The Ulster man was interviewed by two more senior officers before he left, but was given no real practical help by the Army, he said.

After he left the Army his medication helped overcome the stress-induced depression and he thought he was ok.

“But I was continually running away from everything. Every time I got settled into a relationship or a job I would set the conditions to run away from it.

“The turning point was when I met my current wife. We had a night where I had been drinking heavily and we had a huge dust up.”

He expected never to see her again but she called him the next day. Part of her conditions for staying together were that he would seek medical help.

Soon after, in 2014/15, a psychiatric nurse quickly diagnosed him with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

She realised he was having flashbacks, with three specific incidents playing over and over again in his mind and blocking his ability to process thoughts.

His symptoms were disrupted sleep, flashbacks, mood swings, personality changes and disruptive personal behaviour.

“It was quite a severe case – the NHS normally gives 13 weeks of treatment but I got 43. Now I think I have got ‘proper Philip’ back.”

He is now a military media commentator and wishes to help others with PTSD.

“You can be treated. There is hope at the other end,” he added.

An MOD spokesperson said that suicide is significantly lower in the armed forces than in the general population and that it takes the issue very seriously. “The reasons people take their lives can vary and are not necessarily linked to their service,” it said.

Help is available on two 24-hour Combat Stress help-lines and the MoD is working with charities and the Royal Foundation to enhance support, it added.