Wellbeing Support for Suffolk Veterans
As we lead into the Remembrance period, the Suffolk Armed Forces Community Wellbeing Group is raising awareness of veterans’ wellbeing.
There are an estimated 34,000 veterans living in Suffolk, some will be 100 years of age, others could be as young as 24.
As a rural county finding and reaching veterans and their families can be a challenge – the majority leave the armed forces and transition to civilian life without issue and live fulfilling lives and contribute to society, however, for a sizeable minority they may struggle to adjust, struggle to find purposeful employment and have the challenge of to developing new connections or friendships which can lead to a range of wellbeing issues, related to isolation.
Suffolk resident and veteran Gary Edwards, has shared his own personal experience to highlight the importance of those in the Armed Forces Community having access to the right support at the right time.
Gary Edwards said:
“The Armed Forces have now started to realise the importance of mental health but more needs doing. Over 50 serving and retired soldiers committed suicide in the UK in 2018. 50 families left devastated. “Mental health should be one of the biggest priorities for members of the Armed Services who have served especially for those that have seen active service.”
On the lead up to remembrance, Suffolk County Council has supported Parish and Town Councils who are involved in organising local remembrance events to promote Veterans Gateway and Suffolk Military Covenant website, in the service cards they produce for their events.
The Veterans Gateway is a national resource which is supported by all the major military charities and is a web portal that helps veterans to find the right support for them.
Additionally, Suffolk has one of few dedicated local covenant websites which promote activities and services that support our local armed forces community. The website includes Veterans Wellbeing and Welfare Support Groups alongside the five Veterans Breakfast Clubs in Suffolk and a full list of Armed Forces community engagement and support groups in Suffolk can be found at suffolkmilitarycovenant.org.uk
Stuart Keeble, Director of Public Health said:
“Remembrance Day is a poignant and often difficult time for some serving members of the armed forces, veterans or family members as they reflect on people or incidents of the past.
“There is a huge network of organisations supporting the Armed Forces community and the gateway is a great resource to help people to find the local support they need.
“I would like to thank the groups we are working with for their support in promoting resources which are available in Suffolk.”
That was the start of my mental breakdown. A simple letter that in 1989 landed on my doormat and my world was about to change. A few hours earlier my dad, a retired Welsh Guardsman having served 22 years called me.
’’Gary, Richard is dead’’
Richard, my only sibling had committed suicide. He was a soldier in the Royal Signals. It was 19th March 1989. A date I’d never forget. Richard now lies at rest with our parents.
A few short years later I had suffered severe crushing injuries after being hit by a truck while serving in Germany. A week after my accident our son Christopher suffered a bleed in the brain and passed away.
In a few short years I had lost my brother, my son and my military career. I was medically discharged and was physically and mentally lost. I used alcohol as a crutch and spent a long time not dealing with both my mental and physical issues. Little help was offered from the Forces and to be honest, I didn’t know that I needed them.
March 19th 2013, my daughter was so upset with me and my drinking that I found her shouting and screaming at me. I hadn’t realised the damage that it had been doing to my own family. I promised my daughter that day that I’d never drink alcohol again. By this time I weighed over 25st and was broken.
I quit the drink, started doing physical exercise and looking after myself. 170lbs later, I'm now 13st 3lbs, I am the run coordinator of The Great Run Local Alton Water, a free weekly 2k and 5k run or walk and have more experience than most on the ups and downs of trying to get fitter and healthier.
But losing weight was the easy part. I hadn’t thought about my mental health. I hadn’t realised that they worked hand in hand. Until I’d sorted out my mental health there was always the chance of slipping back into depression and hitting the drink again. In 2017 SSAFFA put me onto Back on Track, a military charity based in London that helped injured veterans. Having lost 12st I needed skin surgery.
They were happy to help but before I received help they insisted on me talking to a psychologist to help me deal with my mental health. I went to my first meeting thinking what a load of tosh. Some random person who I had to talk to was just wasting my time. Within 15 minutes of being there I was in tears. I had no idea where it came from or why I had told her the things I had. It was a massive turning point.
Yes the skin that was a constant reminder of my past and how I was damaged physically but it was the psychological support I received that helped me the most.
The Armed Forces have now started to realise the importance of mental health but more needs doing. Over 50 serving and retired soldiers committed suicide in 2018. 50 families left devastated.
Mental health should be one of the biggest priorities for members of the Armed Services who have served especially for those that have seen active service.