Veterans’ Mental Health High Intensity Service – North of England

John’s story – December 2020

John Standish joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) Police in 1985 and served for six years, reaching the rank of Corporal. Whilst serving, John became embroiled in a drinking culture that he continued to struggle with after her left the military. However, life wasn’t kind to John after his stint in the RAF, and he had to face a number of traumas which led him to attempt suicide several times.

He received help from the NHS, Walking With The Wounded and other support agencies. During some of his most difficult times, John was admitted to an inpatient mental health ward in Northumberland. Whilst this was a helpful and positive experience, he feels more knowledge of the military in the NHS would have helped him recovery quicker.

Read John’s full story or watch his video below.

Mark’s story – November 2020

This is Mark Foster’s story. Mark, now based in Northumberland, served as a Private in the Army’s Royal Logistic Corp (RLC) between 2008 and 2012. Mark has struggled with homelessness, alcohol addiction and (undiagnosed) post-traumatic distress disorder (PTSD) following the death of a close friend in the Afghanistan conflict. He’s now using his experiences to help others and is retraining for a career in mental health support.

Full story

Mark Foster was born in April 1987. As a child, Mark always wanted to be a soldier and as his brother was doing well in the Army, he decided that the military life sounded like a good prospect and a solid career.

“When I was 21, I joined the RLC and after I had completed my training, I was posted out to Germany. It was while I was there and completing my Physical Training Instructor course, that I snapped my tibia and missed my unit’s deployment to Afghanistan.

“One day, when I was recovering from the operation to repair my leg, I was watching the TV news and I found out that my best mate had been killed by an improvised explosive device (IED). I contacted my mate’s mother and pregnant girlfriend and together we shared the suffering and grief.

“I tried my best to get on with it but in my heart I had lost interest. I started to drink heavily and to have seizures and panic attacks, but I was too scared to ask for help. When I did finally go forward and speak out, I was branded a ‘waste of space’.

“In 2012, I signed off, but no sooner had I left, I started to have regrets and I couldn’t cope with civilian life. The only way I could get through the day, was to drink. I found reasons not to go out and caused arguments at home to avoid leaving the house. I had also started to watch ‘fire fight’ videos (footage of actual combat situations recorded live by troops in action) on You Tube and I became increasingly isolated and aggressive.

“My family and friends tried to help but they couldn’t, and I made them all suffer. Then I started to self-harm. I cut myself and felt a relief in the pain – to share in the pain that I inflicted on everyone around me.

“I have a young daughter who I adore and my partner was desperate for me to go and get help but when I did eventually go to the hospital, they mentioned social services and I panicked thinking that my daughter would get taken into care so I just walked out. They had my details, but nobody ever followed this up or tried to offer any help.

“When my relationship broke down, I turned against everyone. I slept rough out in the fields in the middle of winter, and didn’t care if I survived the night. I was drinking a 2-litre bottle of vodka a day plus whatever else I could get my hands on.

“When I lost my driving license, the probation officer put me in touch with the Northumberland Recovery Partnership but I had to be dry to get their help and I just physically couldn’t do it as I was so reliant on alcohol. I was also referred to Talking Heads and TILS but I was too drunk to participate and I thought that they didn’t understand and that they couldn’t fix me.

“I was that desperate and frustrated with my situation, that one day I held a knife to my throat and threatened to kill myself – that was when the Police came and I they referred me to a veterans’ charity who immediately understood my situation and knew how to help. They made all the difference and put me on the road to recovery. Really, I needed their support earlier, right from the first signs of trouble – that understanding of the military is key to treating ex-military like me.

“They referred me to a veteran specific rehabilitation programme at Tom Harrison House – a specialist facility that provides addiction recovery just for military veterans. From there I want onto second stage rehab in the NHS’ Oaktrees Abstinence Programme. Both were excellent.

“Now, I’m six months dry and have nearly completed my rehab, I know that on-going support would be a good idea whether that’s through a military charity or a veteran support group – it’s important to know that someone who understands is looking out for you.

Mark Foster

“I also know that I nearly put my mum and dad into an early grave as they watched me destroy myself and couldn’t do anything to help. They could have done with support and some explanation about what was going on with me.

“I really want to use my experiences to help others and I’m currently studying for a career in mental health and counselling. I am back in contact with my partner, family and friends and when I am ready, I will explain to them what I have been through.”

 

The Veterans’ Mental Health High Intensity Service is a new NHS service that provides rapid and enhanced mental health support when veterans are in crisis. It works alongside existing specialist mental health services for former armed forces personnel to stop them from becoming as ill as Mark did.

If you are an armed forces veteran (minimum service of one day) and need mental health support you can speak to your GP or contact the NHS Veterans’ Transition Intervention and Liaison Service (TILS) in the first instance on 0303 123 1145 or email vwals@nhs.net.

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