Kerry’s husband Kenneth was medically discharged in February 2017 with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), hearing loss and back injuries after being caught in two bomb blasts in Afghanistan in 2012 while serving with the 3rd Battalion the Rifles.
Since leaving the army, Kenneth, 28, now has a new job as an engineer while Kerry, 27, is a full-time university student and mum to the couple’s four-year-old son Harris. The couple, live in Dunfermline, Fife.
Kerry explains how it was months before her husband’s mental health issues were recognised and treated.
“Kenneth didn’t really notice any difference – but I did. It was about 18 months after he came back from Afghanistan. He was agitated and frustrated but we thought it was because of his back injury – he was in constant pain, had restless legs syndrome and tinnitus in his ears from the blast. It wasn’t long after we had Harris and we weren’t getting much sleep.
“Kenneth went to the doctor for pain relief and then got physiotherapy. His back injury was improving, Harris was getting older and started sleeping through the night – but Kenneth’s mood didn’t improve, he still didn’t seem happy.
“He was emotionless, even though we had a baby. I was excited and happy at Harris’s milestones – putting on weight, sitting up for the first time, smiling. But Kenny was in his own little world and the army was all that mattered; he had no enjoyment of things like days out or walking the dogs.
“He had a new wife, a lovely son, we had no problems. Everything was in place to be happy, so why was he not happy? Kenneth was always upbeat before – if I was ever worried or upset he would cheer me up. It was such a change – I can’t even describe how different he was. I thought it was me, that Kenneth didn’t want to be part of a family, that we were going to get divorced.”
The turning point came when Kerry did a mental health first aid course advertised at Dreghorn Barracks in Edinburgh, where the couple lived at the time.
“I was planning to study psychology so I thought it might be useful. The instructor had PTSD herself from serving in the forces and was talking about her own experiences – including having no interest in life. Her sister had a baby but she couldn’t enjoy it. Every word she said described Kenneth. He was a bit offended when I suggested he might have PTSD too. He said, “Of course I will be upset about things that happened on tour, I am allowed to say things like that, I don’t have PTSD.” He was convinced it was normal to feel like that but I felt sure it was depression – he fitted every criteria.
Kenneth eventually agreed to see the army Medical Officer who gave him antidepressants and referred him to the community psychiatric nurse (CPN) who diagnosed him with PTSD.
“Once a professional person told him, he accepted something was not right and agreed to have therapy. About six months later, I was speaking to a girl whose husband had physical injuries and she told me about the Band of Sisters. I looked it up on the Help for Heroes’ website, got in touch and got emails inviting me to the BOS coffee mornings and events. Up until then, I felt like I was on my own. It was so helpful to meet people in similar situations and realise I wasn’t the only person in Scotland going through this."
Kerry believes that more awareness is needed for veterans’ families of the symptoms of mental health conditions. “I was so relieved when Kenneth made it back from his final tour – I worried every time I heard there was an explosion or a shooting. I wish now I had known PTSD was something you should look out for afterwards, to know the first signs.”
Support for partners is also invaluable, she says, as well as for the veteran themselves.
“I was having a really hard time and contacted the army welfare service who offered me counselling. I had 9 months of counselling which I found really helpful. Kenneth’s CPN and my counsellor worked together and we gave them permission to share notes, which linked things together. For example, if Kenneth was having therapy and said he was fine, I would be saying “It’s not fine because of XYZ” so his CPN knew he wasn’t telling the truth.”
Help for Heroes also gave Kerry a key worker she could phone for support. “He asked if I had any spare time what would I like to do? I said I would like to try horse-riding as I hadn’t done it for 17 years. Initially, I said I didn’t have time with looking after Harris and Kenneth, housework and studying – but he challenged me and I thought why can’t I do something for an hour a week, that’s just for me. I registered with a riding school in Edinburgh and have kept it up ever since - now Harris is having lessons too.
“My key worker also arranged for me to travel to Phoenix House, one of the charity’s recovery centres, for a pamper weekend. I couldn’t remember when I last got so much time to myself. I really enjoyed all the activities on offer and everyone was so welcoming.”
Husband Kenneth said: “Being a spouse or partner of someone going through a traumatic time can be very difficult. Help for Heroes has helped ease that burden for Kerry by giving her a much-needed break, as well as providing a community of people she can talk to through Band of Sisters. It gives me peace of mind to know Kerry has something for herself."
He added: “I’ve also attended Phoenix House several times doing courses to prepare me for life after discharge and that has also given Kerry a respite and time to herself with our son. It has been massively beneficial to both of us. “
Kenny, who has taken up motorsport as part of his recovery, has set up his own venture PTSD Performance to raise awareness of mental health issues and raise funds to support other veterans struggling with the condition.Get in touch with Hidden Wounds