Ken Nash joined the Army in 1992, straight out of school. Serving with the 17th/21st Lancers and the Queen’s Royal Lancers, Ken saw operational tours of Cyprus, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq and also served in Germany and Canada.
Deployed to Iraq in 2004, Ken’s unit came under frequent fire. During one attack, Ken’s tank was hit 18 times by rocket-propelled grenades. Returning home, he knew those events had left him a changed man: “I realised I had issues but played really well at hiding them. I kept being told to go and see my GP but I refused to and said there was nothing wrong with me.”
The next few years saw Ken posted away from any conflicts, but his mental health continued to deteriorate. Things finally came to a head when he returned to his unit in 2009 and suffered a breakdown.
He was later diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Medically discharged from the Army in 2010, Ken’s life fell apart: “My PTSD was a taboo subject so I just tried to carry on. But I became snappy, moody and jumpy. A car backfiring, a door slamming or fireworks going off was a complete nightmare.
“I spilt up with my wife and couldn’t hold down a job. I was using foodbanks and ended up living in a caravan. I cut myself off from all my friends and family.”
It was nearly ten years before Ken felt enough was enough. He finally went to see his GP who referred him to Veterans Outreach Support, which in turn got in touch with Help for Heroes. Ken then visited the Charity’s Recovery Centre in Catterick, Phoenix House, where he has been able to access a variety of support to help him in his ongoing recovery: “The people there are really friendly and helpful; they don’t judge you at all. It’s like being back in another unit with friends and family – it’s brilliant.”
It was through Phoenix House that Ken was able to develop his love of art, specifically charcoal drawings. It provided him with a vital outlet to help him deal with his mental health issues: “I got stuck in at the art room, which just changed me completely. I find it really relaxing and it takes my mind off everything else.
“I ended up getting asked to show my drawings at the Army Arts Society in Salisbury and sold two down there. Now I’ve got my own website and have been invited to sell my artwork elsewhere so it’s grown in leaps and bounds.”
Ken’s quality of life has also improved outside of the art-room. Through Help for Heroes, he was able to take up sport again, and last year completed a half-Ironman. “Help for Heroes got me into sport and grant-funded a road bike, which has been absolutely brilliant.”
With help from Help for Heroes and other military charities, Ken has also been able to secure a flat, with room for his teenage daughter Grace to stay with him. His relationship with his family has improved dramatically: “I hadn’t spoken to my parents in nearly eight years. I started speaking to them in December 2015 and they came down to Phoenix House. They absolutely love the place and come with me for lunch when they visit. And Grace, who they hadn’t seen in those eight years, has been to stay with them in the school holidays and loved it.
“I went through my really dark times. Getting help is the best thing I’ve done. Without Help for Heroes I don’t think I’d be here now.”