A military veteran from Plymouth is learning to thrive not just survive with Help for Heroes after finally receiving the support he needs.
Dave Wilson served in the Army 40 years ago, but it was only in 2014, when Help for Heroes opened a Recovery Centre in Plymouth, that he started to get support for the mental wounds his time in the military had caused.
Dave, 68, who has lived in Plymouth for 35 years, explained: “Three years ago I was in a bad place mentally. I was a very angry man. It got to a stage where, after a big argument with my wife, I broke down and admitted I needed help. But that was the first time in many years I’d ever said that. I’d never spoken to anyone. I don’t think I realised I had problems until that point. The first stage is owning up to it.”
After leaving the military having served in Germany, Hong Kong and Northern Ireland, Dave entered the construction industry and worked his way up to site foreman. In the last few years of his career he travelled the region delivering NVQs in construction. Having been injured in service, the effects of the constant strain on his knees after carrying on regardless forced retirement, which was when his mental health issues came to the fore.
Dave was signposted to Help for Heroes by partner organisation Veterans UK. Their advisor recognised he needed mental health support and knew where to direct him to.
“It was tremendous,” said Dave. “The welfare team at the Recovery Centre introduced me to a different world. Getting through the door was a personal challenge but you do what you have to do. I met people who had similar issues to me. Within a few months I was seeing the people I needed to see to help with my problems.”
Dave was referred to South West Veterans Mental Health Service which uses the Recovery Centre as one of its bases to meet with those in need of support. Help for Heroes provides grant funding to the NHS organisation to help it deliver vital mental health support to veterans. Their practitioner helped Dave to explore his own mind and introduced coping strategies.
Dave said: “The support I had opened my mind up and started to give me some answers. It took its time and it was sometimes frightening. A lot of things happened in my time in service. I’m learning to control a lot of it. I’m still working on some things, particularly my anger issues, but it’s helped me in a big way. You don’t realise how bad it is until you ask for help. You think it’ll be okay if you just keep going on in life but it’s agony.”
Dave has found solace in the Recovery Centre’s Hero Garden within Devonport Naval Base. Gardening is a task Dave enjoyed as a child growing up in Durham, where his family lived off their garden and kept a menagerie of animals to sustain themselves, in a picture reminiscent of 1970s sitcom The Good Life.
“We were self-sufficient,” said Dave. “It was a case of you had to do it. That was the way of life. I left home at 17 and didn’t use those skills again until two years ago in the Hero Garden. It’s been a life saver. Gardening gives me an outlet for my mental health problems. It’s so tranquil. I find nothing better. It’s relaxing and there’s no stress.”
Dave can be found in the Hero Garden most mornings, before many would have even got out of bed, tending to the garden in the relative peace the location provides. When he is not there, he will be at the archery range in the Naval Base, participating in another activity available to him which captured his attention and provides a release for his daily stresses.
“Even now I’ve still got a few demons about,” added Dave. “People always said I was a nutter but I didn’t realise what that actually meant. I do have my moments and there are hard times, but everything I do at the Recovery Centre and the support I’ve had from Help for Heroes and others, it all helps massively.”