‘I lost all emotions and was totally fearless’

A Belfast veteran has told how the suicide of a young soldier put him on a path to losing all emotions and becoming totally fearless.

David Mealey, 54 from east Belfast, a non commissioned officer, served in the Royal Irish Regiment 1983-2006, touring Kosovo, Bosnia and Iraq. The 2003 Holy Cross riots in Belfast were “a real eye opener” but the biggest challenge for him was when one of his young soldiers took his own life on tour.

Veteran David Mealey was diagnosed with PTSD but found that talking about his condition with other soldiers made a huge difference. Photo: Arthur Allison, Pacemaker.

Veteran David Mealey was diagnosed with PTSD but found that talking about his condition with other soldiers made a huge difference. Photo: Arthur Allison, Pacemaker.

“As far as we were aware this kid was one of the best kids we had, a top soldier. That was one of the most challenging things in my life,” he said.

See all NI reports in the JP Investigations Team series on veteran mental health and suicide

David’s marriage broke down after 27 years.

“So nothing was important to me anyone. I went to work abroad on private security convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I had no feelings. I could not have cared less if I got back from a mission. I was fearless, it was absolutely incredible but I thought that was just normal.”

His family told him he had changed, which he could not believe. He was given a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — which he still does not really accept “because it is a stigma of weakness”.

Various psychiatrists tried to help, but what really worked was “speaking”.

A friend referred him to Robert McCartney at Newtownards veterans charity Beyond the Battlefield.

“He told me I was not the only one. What made a huge difference was speaking to all the other soldiers who have the same problem. A soldier understands.”