A former soldier who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after friends were murdered by the IRA in Co Armagh during the Troubles is urging others in a similar position to seek help.
Robert Allen is a 59-year-old former soldier with the UDR and Royal Irish Regiment whose condition, he said, is the result of his experiences during the period from 1986 to 1992.
While he declined to give specific details of the incidents which had such a profound effect on his life, Mr Allen said: “There were a number of people who I knew who were murdered. They were family and friends.”
A former rugby player and later a professional coach, Mr Allen said he is speaking out to encourage others struggling with similar problems to seek help.
“Some people in Northern Ireland will know me because of my sporting connections,” he said. “I played and coached rugby up to representative level.
“That all came to an end at around 2004 and 2005.
“It’s hard to put an exact figure on it but going back about 15, 16, 17 or 18 years ago, things changed for me. Where I had been at the top of my trade, things started to go wrong. I didn’t know what was happening to me.”
He explained why he had such difficulty seeking help for his condition.
“If you break your leg, you know you’ve broken your leg and you go to the doctor,” he said. “I didn’t know what was hapenning. This was different. I was doing things, not doing things, and making decisions that I shouldn’t have been making.
“About 18 months ago, it was actually the weekend of the North West 200, there was an incident that prompted me to go to my GP and tell her that I was losing it.
“Eventually I was referred to the UDR and Royal Irish aftercare service. That helped me immensely.”
He said that, were it not for the help he received, he would have been “heading for an early grave”.
He added: “On the lowest day of my life, it was as if I was looking at myself from the outside and I was saying ‘this isn’t me’. I thought I am going to have to go to my doctor.”
Encouraging others to seek help, Mr Allen said: “I am not hitting out at anybody here. Yes, people I knew were murdered by the IRA, but that is not why I am doing this. This isn’t anything to do with politics in Northern Ireland or anything like that.
“The reason I am doing this is because life is precious. If someone is out there and, for whatever reason – whether it is because of a car crash or anything else – and they are trying to struggle through for years and years, they are not going to get those years back.”