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'I'd probably be six-feet under without the help' - Mental health campaign launched for military veterans

Military veteran Mark Beckham, from Bury St Edmunds,  took nearly two decades to seek help for his mental health issues Picture: HELP FOR HEROES

Military veteran Mark Beckham, from Bury St Edmunds, took nearly two decades to seek help for his mental health issues Picture: HELP FOR HEROES

Archant

Military veterans are delaying asking for help with their mental health for nearly four years, survey results have revealed.

Colchester Castle will be lit up on Tuesday, January 22, as part of the campaign  Picture: COLCHESTER BOROUGH COUNCILColchester Castle will be lit up on Tuesday, January 22, as part of the campaign Picture: COLCHESTER BOROUGH COUNCIL

The findings showed that armed forces veterans were delaying seeking help due to the belief that civilian services will not understand or support them as well as a fear of being treated differently by friends and family.

The survey was commissioned by military charity Help for Heroes, which is launching a campaign to end the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage veterans to ask for help if they need it.

Today, on Blue Monday, claimed to be the most gloomy day of the year, a stigma clock will be projected onto the Tower of London in support of veterans, and will be switched on by England rugby World Cup winner Matt Dawson.

Colchester Castle will also be lit tomorrow evening in support of the campaign.

A stigma clock will be projected onto the Tower of London to launch the campaign Picture: JAMES MARSTONA stigma clock will be projected onto the Tower of London to launch the campaign Picture: JAMES MARSTON

Ex-soldier Mark Beckham, from Bury St Edmunds, battled to keep his mental health issues under wraps for nearly two decades.

Despite being deeply affected by the things he had witnessed while serving in Kosovo in 1999, it wasn’t until 2016 that Mark found himself at the end of his tether.

“In the military you’ve got your pride and you don’t want to be seen as a weak individual,” he said.

“That’s why a lot of the guys don’t seek help – they don’t want to be seen as a weak link in the chain. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, to sit there and admit you’ve got something wrong. I found it very hard.”

Former England rugby star Matt Dawson will switch on the projection Picture: ARCHANTFormer England rugby star Matt Dawson will switch on the projection Picture: ARCHANT

Mark, who also served in the 2003 Gulf War and in Afghanistan in 2013, said he began to experience flashbacks in 2005.

“I was bad tempered and I started drinking,” he said. “I went to see a doctor and he signed me off for two weeks. Those two weeks were a rollercoaster and I thought, this is my body dealing with what I’ve experienced, this is it all coming out and it’ll be done with.”

A turning point came in 2016, when Mark went to see a doctor about pain in his joints and problems he was having with his memory. The doctor recommended a mental health assessment, but at first he refused to attend.

“Even though I’d already searched on the internet about how I was feeling, I feared that a diagnosis might end my career, so I refused to go, but the doctor insisted. So I went for the assessment and when they started poking and prodding around in my head it really hit me, the state I was in at that point.”

With support from Help for Heroes, Mark began to receive dedicated help with his mental health issues for the first time.

Part of the healing process was to accept that his military career was at an end, and he was medically discharged from his post in 2018 while receiving ongoing treatment.

Mark has now set up his own survival skills business and feels much more positive about his future. He even teaches survival skills to other veterans who have suffered similar experiences to him.

“If you’re struggling, speak to somebody,” he said. “I look at where I was in 2016, unable to function, to where I am now, with my own business. My outlook on life is much brighter.

“I still have bad days but when they come I can deal with them, because I know there’s hope out there.

“I accept I’m having a bad day, I let nature take its course, I don’t try and fight it because I can’t. I just keep it in the back of my mind that as soon as this little cloud has passed that I’ll be back down in the woods and cracking on, because I’ve got things to work towards now.

“I don’t know where I would be now without the help I’ve received – probably six-feet under.”

Karen Mead, head of psychological wellbeing at Help for Heroes, said: “Mark’s story is the reality for thousands of military personnel. Veterans are not accessing mental health support when they need it and we believe this needs to change.

“Our campaign is asking the nation to call time on stigma and to let those who have served their country know it’s okay to ask for help.

“We need the communities support to help us fund vital programmes to ensure we can continue to be there and respond quickly when veterans do take that big step and ask for support.”

For more information on the campaign, visit CutTheClock.com

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