In his acclaimed book Aftershock, journalist Matthew Green tells the story of life after combat. he spoke to many families about their experiences and here he shares extracts from his interviews…
WHILE many soldiers adapt quickly to post-tour life, for some the journey home marks the start of a new battle.
Much has been written about the nightmares, insomnia and flashbacks that can besiege sufferers of the most severe forms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Less is said about the agonising dilemmas faced by their families.
Living with PTSD
In Liverpool, I met Sue McInally, founder of a support group for military carers called Combat PTSD Angels. Sue’s husband Joe served 13 tours in Northern Ireland before he was medically discharged.
For years he experienced paralysing night terrors, but said nothing. Sue did her best to ignore Joe’s sometimes compulsive behaviour and shield their children from his desolate moods.
“For the 14 years that we didn’t know he had PTSD, he certainly showed a lot of the low-level symptoms,” Sue said. “We just got on with it. It all seemed normal to us.”
When Joe’s flashbacks became so severe that he was convinced their house was under attack, Sue realised he was suffering from a severe psychological injury and began a quest to find help.
Combat PTSD Angels has more than 230 carers on its private Facebook page.
For many members, the biggest concern is the impact of their partner’s behaviour on their children. Toni Collard, whose husband Keith served in the Falklands and the Gulf War, said they had agreed to educate their young daughter Grace about PTSD so she would understand his volatile behaviour.
“We’ve always said ‘Mr Grumpy’ – that’s what we call PTSD in our house,” Toni said. “So when he has his moments where he needs to be left alone, when he is quite aggressive, when he is rude, I used to take Grace away and say: ‘Oh, it’s Mr Grumpy, we need to give him some Daddy space.’”
The MOD runs out-patient clinics at Departments of Community Mental Health across the UK and in some overseas bases for serving personnel. The NHS has set up a Veterans Mental Health Network in England to better coordinate support for ex-Forces, with similar services in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
While services are improving, there is no doubt that the strongest pillar of psychological support for Britain’s military is a hidden army of parents, spouses and partners.
Support is out there
If you think your soldier is showing signs of mental health issues, use the following links to seek help:
- If your soldier is serving, talk to their chain of command, medical officer, unit welfare officer or Army Welfare Service
- The Ripple Pond
- Help for Heroes Band of Sisters/Band of Brothers
- The Big White Wall
- Combat Stress: 24-hour helpline 0800 138 1619
- Hidden Wounds (Help for Heroes): 0808 2020 144
- Time to Change
- The Warrior Programme
- AFF Health & Additional Needs Specialist