We all have our dark days; even Sir Winston Churchill famously talked of his 'Black Dog', the terrible lows that were the counter to his visionary leadership. Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry have both spoken publicly about their moments of doubt and despair. It’s a part of so many lives.
Many of those who have served have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and receive treatment. Help for Heroes, recognising the need, is the largest donor to Combat Stress and supports the great work they do to supplement the treatment available on the NHS.
Not everyone will have a diagnosable mental health condition like PTSD but many, having endured a high tempo of operational tours in recent years, are coping with mental wellbeing issues. They and their families also need our help and support in their dark days.
Everyone is different but everyone will have their own spark which will light up their darkness; the trick is finding it and helping it glow.
Our Recovery Centres are all about finding that spark - we recognise that it takes time and there is no 'one size fits all' solution. We have a pastoral team on duty, ready to chat through the long sleepless nights. We have our Wellbeing counsellors on hand to help with coping strategies. We are building our Hidden Wounds programme to help support the mental wellbeing issues for our young veterans and their families and we have our Pathfinder programmes to help find the way to successful careers.
Sport is a proven and vital part of recovery and many of our wounded find getting involved with Battleback (a military initiative funded by Help for Heroes) or one of our challenges, life enhancing. Our Band of Brothers and Band of Sisters networks offer fellowship and understanding.
People ask me why we need more money now that we have our Recovery Centres in place and the answer is very simple; we need to keep them going. We need to be able to support those affected by these conflicts for years to come. The physical wounds may heal but the mental injuries will need attention long into the future.
We can only keep going with your support. In the next few weeks we will be asking you if you would be willing to commit to a regular monthly donation or consider leaving a legacy in your will. Our young men and women signed up to serve; now we need to sign up to support them for life.
Onwards and upwards,
Tom Stimpson, MBE joined the RAF in 1988, when he was 17, and served in the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2006 he suffered a head injury and severe concussion after falling during a rocket attacked in Basra where he was stationed at the time. In 2008, following a harrowing tour in Afghanistan, Tom was diagnosed with Non Epileptic Attack Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
He suffers from insomnia, flashbacks and intense seizures during which he is ‘locked in’ to his body and unable to talk. Tom is determined to help others through his experience and is now a vocal advocate for removing the stigma around mental health in serving Service personnel and veterans. He has spoken about the issue at Oxford University and at school’s across the country. He still has ‘dark days’ caused by his PTSD and describes these occasions as ‘having a dragon on my back’. He says:
“As time goes on you learn a little bit each day to live with who you are, the experiences you have had and how they have affected you. A strong support network is essential. My wife and three young sons learned to cope [with my seizures] but we must realise the effect PTSD and other mental health problems can have on our families. They go on the journey with us during the good times and always the bad and very intense times. Support, recognition and, most importantly, the removal of the stigma attached to mental health will make all the difference.
“Help for Heroes has been incredible during my recovery. I visited Chavasse VC House Recovery Centre in Colchester to prepare for transition into civilian life. The opportunity to meet people there who are on the same journey and who I could relate to was priceless. Knowing that I can return whenever I need support is an amazing feeling. My battles may last a lifetime, and I only hope that the British public understand the difficulties faced by those with PTSD and continue to support this amazing charity."