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Mark Beckham suffered in silence with his mental health issues for 18 years before coming to the end of his tether. At his lowest, he would sit staring at a wall, haunted by the past and reliving traumatic events over and over in his head. With the right support, Mark is now on the path to a much brighter future. He still has bad days, but now he has the tools in place to tackle them.

An 18-year battle

For nearly two decades, Mark Beckham battled to keep his mental health issues under wraps. Despite being deeply affected by the things he had witnessed whilst serving in Kosovo in 1999, it wasn’t until 2016 that Mark found himself at the end of his tether, barely able to function after spending 18 years suffering a gradual decline in the way he felt.

Mark readily admits that fear of stigma played a part in his decision not to speak up about his own suffering.

“In the military, you’ve got your pride and you don’t want to be seen as a weak individual. That’s why a lot of the guys don’t seek help – they don’t want to be seen as a weak link in the chain. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, to sit there and admit you’ve got something wrong. I found it very hard.”

Unable to function

Mark knew that his time in Kosovo had affected him as soon as he returned from his 1999 tour.

When I got home, I used to sit by the river as I felt calm next to water. There was a pub nearby. I couldn’t get my head around what had happened and was still happening out there. There were people sitting outside the pub with their drinks and laughing and joking and I’m sitting there fighting back the tears, unable to get my head around things.”

Despite this, military life continued, with Mark going on to serve in the 2003 Gulf War and in Afghanistan in 2013. In 2005, he experienced his first “massive wobble” when out of nowhere, he began having horrific flashbacks.

“I was bad-tempered, and I started drinking. I went to see a doctor and he signed me off for two weeks. Those two weeks were a rollercoaster and I thought, this is my body dealing with what I’ve experienced, this is it all coming out and it’ll be done with.

“But from then on I noticed a gradual decline in my personality, and it got worse. I carried on with more tours and those were having an impact on me too, but at the time I didn’t really acknowledge it because when you’re out on operations you just get on with things. It’s not until you come home and you absorb what’s gone on that you realise all is not as it should be.  And I carried on like that until 2016, when I just couldn’t function at all.”

Hitting a low point

At his lowest, Mark would find himself sat in a chair just staring at a wall, an imaginary videotape playing over and over in his head of the things he’d seen. He’d withdraw to the point that he couldn’t bring himself to play with his two young children. At other times, he’d test his own mettle, trying to prove to himself that he was strong enough to handle the things he’d witnessed back in 1999.

“I would drink and go on my laptop and I would read up on Kosovo, look at images and see how much I could take. It was crazy and it would put me in a very dark space for two or three days at a time.”

Fearing stigma

A turning point came in 2016, when Mark went to see a doctor about pain in his joints and problems he was having with his memory. The doctor recommended a mental health assessment, but at first, he refused to attend.

“Even though I’d already searched on the internet about how I was feeling, I feared that a diagnosis might end my career, so I refused to go, but the doctor insisted. So I went for the assessment and when they started poking and prodding around in my head it really hit me, the state I was in at that point.”

Mark was put on long-term leave. Still, he found it difficult, to be honest about his struggles.

“Colleagues knew about my other health issues, but not about the mental health stuff. I felt there was stigma there. I felt pathetic, weak.”

Despite this, and with support from Help for Heroes, Mark began to receive dedicated help with his mental health issues for the first time. Part of the healing process was to accept that his military career was at an end – Mark was medically discharged from his post in 2018 whilst receiving ongoing treatment. At this point, he had already discovered a love of nature, and was well on his way, with the aid of a Help for Heroes grant, to setting up his own business teaching natural survival skills.

“I’ve always enjoyed nature and found it calming. I knew I couldn’t do a busy job, around lots of people and noise, because of the triggers that might set off in me.”

A brighter outlook

Now, with his new business fully up and running, Mark feels much more positive about his future. He even teaches survival skills to other Veterans who have suffered similar experiences to him.

“If you’re struggling, speak to somebody. I look at where I was in 2016, unable to function, to where I am now, with my own business. My outlook on life is much, much brighter.

“I still have bad days but when they come I can deal with them, because I know there’s hope out there. I accept I’m having a bad day, I let nature take its course, I don’t try and fight it because I can’t. I just keep it in the back of my mind that as soon as this little cloud has passed that I’ll be back down in the woods and cracking on because I’ve got things to work towards now.

“I don’t know where I would be now without the help I’ve received – probably six feet under.”

According to a recent survey commissioned by Help for Heroes, 30%* of Veterans with psychological wounds say they have never reached out for support. For those that have, it takes an average of four years before they ask for help.

Find out more about our campaign to call time on mental health stigma.

*Statistics based on a survey commissioned by Help for Heroes, December 2018