Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth Armed Forces and veterans in the two World Wars and later conflicts. The country falls silent at 11am on the 11
th day of the 11 th month to think about those who have given their lives to protect our country and freedom for generations to come.
With the help of a brilliant charity and a brave mother our article takes a look at the impact of trauma and loss in the military community and sees our colleagues reflect and give thanks.
Lost in service: A mother’s story
Private Jamie Lee Sawyer was just 20-years-old when he tragically lost his life in a kayaking training exercise whilst he was deployed in Cyprus in March 2015. The coroner found that Jamie died from asphyxia due to sea water drowning, which was contributed to by the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) failure to adequately assess the weather forecast and ensure risk assessments covered specific hazards.
Throughout Tracy’s fight for justice she’s faced many challenges. After her experience she decided to set up a social media support group to provide compassion and guidance to other families going through a similar process.
It’s vital for families to feel they have the truth behind a loved one’s death, as well as knowing that lessons have been learnt to decrease the number of deaths in our Armed Forces.
Here, Tracy remembers her son and we pay tribute to him and all those who have given their lives on behalf of their country.
An insight into mental health across the veteran community with Icarus
Icarus is a leading mental health charity supporting the Armed Forces both during their service and as they transition into civilian life. Ahead of a week of reflection we spoke to founder of the charity, David Bellamy, who specialises in treating people who have experienced trauma. We asked him about the impact of lockdown, how he helped a young soldier through a crisis and his hopes for the future of mental health.
Hi David, thank you for taking the time to virtually catch up with us. Can you tell us how Icarus provide mental health support to military personnel and veterans within our communities?
We provide a veteran-to-veteran mental health treatment and therapy programmes for those suffering from a wide range of mental health issues. Even before the pandemic we conducted the sessions virtually as our reach is national - we even help people abroad.
When a veteran or a family member contacts us we aim to respond immediately and certainly within 24 hours, as we believe this is when they need our help the most. After helping them and being there for them through an immediate crisis, a client will typically require up to 12 sessions to complete treatment. Our recent patient survey indicated an 89% completion and success rate, which is fantastic to see.
We’re both proud to have signed the Armed Forces Covenant. How has the grant from their COVID-19 Impact Fund helped you to continue during these difficult times?
It really has been a lifeline during this difficult time! In January this year we projected that our work would see us increase from two therapists (myself and Simon Maryan) to six therapists. However because of the impact of lockdown on mental health conditions and the exponential increase in demand, we have had to up our support to 18 full time therapists. Without the support of The Armed Forces Covenant COVID-19 Impact Fund we wouldn’t have been able to make this big step towards helping even more people - we’re thankful to be able to have helped 1,230 people this year already.
Our supporters have really stood by us during these difficult times and have been very kind with their donations.
Can you share with us a particularly memorable account of when you helped someone through a mental health crisis?
There are many. I would imagine that every therapist will have several memorable patients. In my own case I can relate to a young soldier, married with two young children, who contacted us with severe PTSD from a tour in Afghanistan resulting in major anger issues, paranoia, agoraphobia and alcohol abuse. He was medically discharged but was categorised at a level where he could not claim disability pension for a head injury suffered during service that had damaged his brain to where he no longer had any short term memory. As a result, he was unemployable and due to the brain damage could not manage to deal with the MOD and others in regard to claiming a pension or injury claim. He was awarded a single payment but eventually he hit crisis point and ran away from his family home as he could not bring himself to deal with the authorities as this further aggravated his PTSD.
We managed over the course of a year to gradually treat his anger and PTSD, significantly reducing his symptoms. He still suffers from the occasional ‘flash-back’ or night terrors but the therapy we were able to provide has significantly improved his mental health and he’s now able to enjoy a normal family life – it’s wonderful to see.
What support is there for family members who have a loved one experiencing mental health difficulties?
We very much recognise the impact of a veteran’s mental health on the family. Very often it is the partner who will make the initial contact with us because the veteran may not recognise they have a problem or may be reluctant to put up their hand and ask for help. We do offer mental health treatment to family members, always ensuring this is with a different therapist. Icarus has a very inclusive and relaxed approach, it is an informal organisation that embraces anyone and anything around the veteran.
We also have a
family support group on Facebook which is a forum for partners and family members to share experiences or just to let off steam.
How have you supported families and veterans through Remembrance Day this year, given people are unable to come together to pay their respects?
It’s a shame the beautiful tributes and parades are unable to go ahead as usual this year, however we will still be open and at the end of the phone for any veterans finding this time of year difficult, as many have lost comrades in service.
Locally here in Dumfries, we have the Veterans Garden that have arranged a televised service in the chapel at the Crighton with veterans parading and the Lord Lieutenant in attendance. My regiment will parade in Westminster but with a single representative.
We will be joining the rest of the country to pause and remember all who have given their live for their Queen and country on Remembrance Sunday and on 11 November.
What lessons do you think need to be learned to better support people as they move to civilian life?
Around 50% of the patients that come to Icarus are suffering from direct battle related trauma, but the other 50% come to us struggling with reintegration issues – this helps us place things in perspective and realise more needs to be done to help with the transition into civilian life.
Battle related trauma is identifiable and treatable. Reintegration issues are more complex and often difficult to identify and treat. We are talking about the transition from service life, a family and a hierarchy that give responsibility and purpose, into an alien environment that does not recognise military service and is not kind to those trying to transition into it. We will typically see employment issues, family issues, anger issues, alcohol and substance abuse and the more pedestrian issues of personal administration, signing on, registering with a GP, opening a bank account and other essentials. We take these things for granted but a returning soldier will not and will find difficult until somebody explains how it works.
We have identified transitioning issues as a great contributing factor to mental health issues and have established a ‘mentoring’ side to the Icarus programme to help veterans with the move to civilian life.
What are your hopes for the future of Icarus and better mental health within the Armed Forces?
Ultimately, I would like to see Icarus partnering with the NHS or some of the other military charities. I believe that rationalisation is the key to a more cohesive veteran’s mental health domain. We need to put the needs of the veterans first and broaden our approach to the whole array of issues that make up veterans mental health concerns that include everything from PTSD through to reintegration.
You can find support from Icarus on
Facebook and Twitter. What does Armistice Day mean to our colleagues?
Messages of remembrance, war medals and family photos were all brought to light when we asked our colleagues from across the business what Armistice Day means to them.
Becks Grant Jones shared a photo of her grandad with his medals The African Star and War Medal 1939 – 1945. Molly Miller’s father, Major Andrew Miller (Rtd), reflected back on his time and medals from the 3rd battalion parachute regiment and Ryan Wilson’s children, Parker and Felicity, spent time learning about the history of our country by creating a lovely poppy montage.
Thank you to everyone who paused to remember the sacrifice given by service men and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts.
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