A Falklands veteran from Caerphilly who suffers with post traumatic stress disorder has spoken of the support given to him by mental health charity Combat Stress and Help for Heroes.
Mark, 56, served in the Royal Navy for 12 years. He was deployed to the Falkland Islands during the 1982 conflict and experienced significant trauma as he was a crew member on HMS Sheffield when it was hit by an Argentine missile and destroyed.
As a result of this experience Mark began to suffer from mental health problems and he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
He had treatment many years ago from Combat Stress to help him learn to cope with his symptoms and following this he was able to pursue a successful career, travelling the world for work and enjoying family life with his wife and children.
But in 2014 Mark was made redundant. “My confidence really took a knock,” he said. Low mood and anxiety became increasingly problematic and he began to lack motivation for everyday life.
Mark got back in contact with Combat Stress and was offered the chance to take part in a series of new, community-based, occupational therapy workshops – which have been paid for by a £1 million grant from charity Help for Heroes.
The workshops took place over seven weeks (one day per week) and each focused on a different area – these included interpersonal skills, improved lifestyle through exercise, sleep and food, routine behaviour and thinking skills. In the morning veterans would learn more about the topic through education and theory before taking part in a relevant, practical activity in the afternoon – for example doing a community photography challenge, creative writing or going on a mindful walk.
Mark, who did not want his surname published, said: “To be honest my first reaction when I was offered the chance to take part in the workshops was ‘am I the right person?’. I’ve had my PTSD for a long time. But Hannah, my occupational therapist, reassured me the course was about moving forward and helping me to live my life.
“I’m so glad I took up the opportunity. I got so much out of the workshops and it was so good to try some new things.”
Hannah Vaughan-Horrocks, community occupational therapist, explained: “The workshops focus on occupation and resilience. What we mean by occupation is a meaningful activity and resilience is defined as a quality that enables someone to bounce back from adversity. Each workshop is designed to reinforce the value of meaningful activities and provide veterans with strategies to develop their resilience. It’s a safe environment to discover new skills and interests.”
Mark added: “Being part of the workshops gave me so much information about opportunities open to me but it was also a chance to meet other veterans in my local area. They told me about some other sources of support, like the Help for Heroes fellowship network.
“I feel so much more energised now, especially around doing a hobby. I’ve just taken up whittling – so far I’ve made three wooden spoons, but without doing the workshops, I’d never have had the confidence to even give it a go. In fact, I’ve enjoyed it so much, I’ve just applied for a grant from Help for Heroes for some woodworking tools.
“Thanks to the Combat Stress workshops, my perspective on life is now totally different. I’ve been to the treatment centre and addressed my past issues, now these workshops have allowed me to look to my future.”
Vanessa Moulton, Help for Heroes Head of Psychological Wellbeing, said: “Help for Heroes are delighted to be helping individuals like Mark to access the support they need, by helping to fund specific services delivered by Combat Stress. The fact that Mark is also benefiting from the Help for Heroes fellowship network shows the value of organisations collaborating in this way.”
There are 14 regional Combat Stress Community Teams, providing veterans with access to specialist help and support for their mental health conditions. Each team is now made up of a community psychiatric nurse and an occupational therapist. It’s the first time that occupational therapy has been part of the Combat Stress Community Service.
If you need support, or know someone who does, visit www.helpforheroes.org.uk/get-support/ for more information.