A mountain leader has spoken of his battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and encouraged other veterans and service personnel to seek help as part of mental health awareness week.
Anthony Evans, 41, of Blackpool, served for 20 years and was medically discharged in 2014 with PTSD after several Operational tours.
He worked initially as a reconnaissance soldier until 2008 and then as a surgical assistant in Afghanistan. He was supported in his recovery by Adventure Quest, a charity funded by Help for Heroes, after hearing about them through a stay at Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Phoenix House, in Catterick.
Adventure Quest UK provides a therapeutic programme of rehabilitation for veterans in the UK who have serious mental health conditions or injuries as a result of their service. The programme gives wounded, injured, and sick veterans the opportunity to learn outdoor skills such as map reading, rope work, reading weather charts, and geology. Adventure Quest began receiving grant funding from Help for Heroes in May 2012 and Help for Heroes has so far provided £484,000 of funding, including a recent commitment to fund £289,000 over the next three years.
Anthony, who served with the Parachute Regiment and the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment before becoming a medic, is now a qualified mountain leader for Adventure Quest and has launched his own business, Adventures with Heroes. But life post-military hasn’t been an easy one for Anthony.
He explained: “My mental health began to suffer in 2005 after a tour of Iraq. I decided to become a medic and spent a lot of time on my Afghanistan tours working in the operating theatres and instead of helping the problem, it worsened it. My mental health was already fragile and I had to deal with casualties day in day out.
“Iraq left me with survivors’ guilt and I couldn’t command anymore. I thought I could help it by becoming a medic and saving others but it backfired. The traumas I would see on a daily basis just meant I spiralled further downwards. My entire personality changed; I had a real sense of failure and that I wasn’t good enough. I had trouble sleeping, I was hyper-vigilant, very quick tempered and felt angry all of the time.”
Anthony, whose wife served with him, said the impact of his mental health battles began to be felt by his family. He eventually sought help in 2010 but 18 months later he was sent back to Afghanistan – which Anthony admits was a big mistake.
“I wasn’t ready and I wasn’t the same person”, he said. “I had become insubordinate; I couldn’t take direction or handle any pressure.”
He was eventually medically discharged in 2014 and sent to Help for Heroes Recovery Centre in Catterick where he was put in touch with Adventure Quest. He hasn’t looked back since.
“It completely changed my life”, he said. “I didn’t realise how good it was for your mental health to be outdoors, spending time with like-minded people. I found I was getting a lot of respite and peace from being in the open air, using skills I already possessed. It switched my mind off to all of the bad things and just let me focus on the present. It was a stepping stone to me launching my own career path through Adventures with Heroes. ”
Paul Lefever, Managing Director of Adventure Quest, added: “Developing a respectful relationship with the natural world is recognised as being beneficial to a person’s mental and physical well-being. There is a solitude being out in the hills, the veterans develop knowledge, skills and confidence being in the outdoors with like-minded people.
“We pay specific attention to providing practical application of leadership skills required in the outdoors that focuses on building self-awareness, self-development and personal motivation. Alongside that we provide mental health awareness sessions led by experienced practitioners on how veterans can better manage their own mental health, discussing things like medication, meditation and mindfulness.
“The financial backing, support and guidance from Help for Heroes means we can keep the groups small which is very beneficial for those taking part, especially those with complex needs: it means we can tailor the needs for each individual. Help for Heroes has supported Adventure Quest UK from the outset and continue to enable us to support individuals battling mental health difficulties.”