PTSD; Veterans call for support

Military regiments, charities and ex-personnel need to work harder to allow veterans with mental illness to access help, a leading campaigner has warned. The stigma of mental health is gradually being removed across society but many ex-servicemen and women are still being left without treatment, according to the head of a charity that uses horsemanship to rebuild confidence and skills.

Brave Step

Jock Hutchison, a former marine, is chief executive of HorseBack UK in Aberdeenshire. He says it can take seven years for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to manifest itself in veterans, meaning many are well out of the services. He said: “Ex-military people need to engage — one of the problems we have is connecting to people. Once someone takes that first brave step there is a wide variety of help available.” Hutchison said encouraging veterans can come through social media and awareness campaigns “but the most powerful is word of mouth. Mental health is a major issue and the military needs to come together to help those who desperately need assistance,” he added.

Sense of Purpose

PTSD among military personnel and veterans has risen in the past decade, according to a study of nearly 9,000 of the military by King’s College London published last year. It shows PTSD in the military rose from 4% in 2004-5 to 6% in 2014-16. Hutchison added: “With a mental injury you cannot do it yourself but one of the problems with military people is that there is an attitude that ‘we are nails’ and don’t need help.” The ethos of HorseBack UK, which has helped more than 12,000 veterans in the past decade, is to bring a sense of purpose, helping those who have been ill — mentally or physically — to contribute to society.

Key Part

Juliet Bryce, 54, had been in the RAF for 20 years, working in air surveillance and making the rank of sergeant before leaving in 2003. She then split from her husband after 24 years of marriage in 2010. “That tipped me over the edge and I ended up in a secure mental health unit,” she said. Bryce was told about HorseBack UK by a friend she had met through the support group Combat Stress. “I had never really liked horses because they are big, have a brain of their own and can really hurt you,” she said. But at HorseBack, the animals were a key part of her recovery, and she now goes back as a mentor.

Overcome

Roxanne Macaulay was introduced to the charity by a fellow veteran. The 61-year-old joined the Women’s Royal Army Corps in 1975 but had to leave in 1978 because she married a civilian. In 1996 Macauley was diagnosed with depression as well as anxiety, and she said it was last year, when she went to HorseBack UK, that she began to feel she was on the way to recovery. Now she acts as a mentor for the charity. “It has shown me that you can overcome your fear,” she said. “I started believing in myself again and that is what is most important.”