Veterans Suicide

Is there a cure……?

Suicide is not a new thing, it is far too common in society. While serving in the British Army I looked upon people who committed suicide as people who wasted their lives. I thought that they were weak and inconsiderate. I mean after all the effect that their ‘selfish’ act had on friends family and so on.

I was highly trained, first and foremost I was a soldier, second to this I was a Combat Medical Technician. My job was to save lives so I was always aghast when people took their own life!

“Oh how life changes”

These thoughts were quickly reconsidered when a friend took his life; while out on a live fire training he joked about keeping one round (bullet) for himself! Not one eyelid was batted after all, at the close of each range exercise you declare you have not retained any munitions. The following day while out training on a weighted march with kit and weapons, the group stopped for a water break. This was his last, he loaded his rifle, turned it on himself and took his life.

The key to the above was that he took his life. He did not commit suicide, killing yourself has not been illegal since 1961. Therefore you can not ‘commit’ suicide. This marked a change in my opinion, why, because before this I was wrong.

“There is nothing wrong with admitting you are wrong as long as you recognise and change.”

Changing the world never happens, changing yourself does so this is where you need to start. Over several years there has been focus on mental health in both military and civilian life. Recently it has been identified that there are no specific records kept by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) relating to Veterans suicide. The stock response is that the coroner holds these records. Well… that would be the case if they identified the person who has taken their life as a veteran, so in short there are not suitable records to draw from.

If we are frank, the United Kingdom has a part to play in supporting the Armed Forces, every year on the 11th November we remember Armistice Day. Everyone (almost) comes together, buys a poppy and shows their support for our Armed Forces. What happens next, well the funds raised are gratefully received and benefit those who are in need.
America is by no way perfect, they do however actively recognise their veterans, this includes simple gratitude like free entry to theme parks and respecting them for what they have done. This point seems laboured however its the little things that matter.
In the UK there are a large number of charities set up to help serving and ex-service personnel, these charities support issues including;

Mental Health
Employment Support
Housing Support
Recovery and providing lifelines.

It’s obvious the support is out there in the United Kingdom although a lot needs to be done. The public gives millions each year to support ‘our troops’. There are lots of amazing people doing crazy things to raise money. There is also a lot of corporate input including the offer of employment programs to help service leavers and financial donations.

This should surely be enough but to date 43 veterans have taken their lives this year, with a majority of these having struggled with the mental health condition Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is not the only mental health condition that has causative effect.

A number of people doing amazing things and inspiring people, some of these include;

Brian Wood MC https://www.brianwoodmc.co.uk/
Karla Stevenson of https://www.civvyfutures.org/
Tony Hodson of http://www.hodson-associates.co.uk/
Iain Henderson trustee https://www.veteranscharity.org.uk/
Michael Coates of https://declassifiedpodcast.com/

One of the key messages is that “its okay not to be okay”, this message isn’t just about smashing the stigma of mental health, it’s about self identifying that things are getting tough. This doesn’t mean going online and self diagnosing yourself as having a mental health condition.

Your first port of call is speaking out to friends, family or health professionals. One thing you need to know is “this is a road to recovery” it’s not a quick fix. If you talk about it then you start the road to recovery.

With the modern roads in the UK you will find lots of ruts and rubbish, you will sometimes hit a roundabout where you won’t know which way to turn; there are signposts out there. Sometimes you will turn down an unmade road, unmade doesn’t mean the path hasn’t been trodden it just means that it can be a bit dustier. No matter which way you turn, what road you take or even if it’s the wrong one it’s important that you stop and ask for directions.

The above may be a daft analogy but it’s as clear and simple as it needs to be. Veterans and service personnel are taking their lives and its frightening. I would say more so because every one of those who pledge allegiance to the Sovereign are in essence willing to die for their country.

None of them want to and taking their own life is not doing this, it is dying because the country failed them. Its time to change this. I decided to write this and not go into the facts and figures. It is clear that the world, the government need to be doing something. The issue is they are not doing as much as they could. Facts and figures will not redress the balance. It is too late for so many but its down to us, we can change the future.

Lots of people are putting the government to task if you look there are many petitions, sign these but please don’t think that is it I’ve done my bit, I’ve ticked the box. There are 2.5 million veterans in the UK as of 2016, this was down 60,000 from 2015. The most recent statistics will be published in 2019!

Ultimately there is no cure, for years people have taken their own lives so the responsibility lies on us to give them the support, the signposts, the sense of purpose.
I write this in the knowledge that I have hit rock bottom and considered suicide, but I came through. Why? Because I looked up from the rocks and realised there was always a hand to help me up, find yours talk.

I urge you to look at the links above and if you need help or support please use the helplines provided by Combat Stress.
The helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Veterans and their families can call 0800 138 1619.
Serving personnel and their families can call 0800 323 4444.
You can also text on 07537 404719 and email helpline@combatstress.org.uk Standard charges may apply for texts, please check with your provider
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Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

R+Z

The Sky’s the limit

Or is it……?

Its a crisp autumn morning, the bright yellow light in the clear blue sky is glowing and glinting off of every shard of glass. Unlike Alex Guandino my destination was known. Heathrow Airport was my next stop.

A380 cockpit is pretty high up !

First challenge was to leave the ever faithful assistance dog Ziggy behind, why ? The first consideration was he going to be alone? That was easily answered, the second was what contingencies could I put in place to deal with my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I have developed many coping strategies over the years to manage in situations like this so I reverted to these.
Enough babble, I was attending the British Airways (BA) Flight Simulator organised through Help For Heroes. 40 Veterans from every service were present and given this amazing opportunity to fly in a flight simulator.

This was not sitting in front of a computer screen with your joystick this was a multimillion pound system that mirrored everything in the cockpit of the variants of aircraft used by BA. It wasn’t only this I also had the opportunity to see the amazing Heathrow Fire Service in action (training), amongst the other equipment used to keep the airport working.

Heathrow Fire Service equipment display

This sounds fun throw into the mix PTSD and a heart rate average of 100bpm it turns something enjoyable into a draining but awesome experience. Not taking away from the amazing staff of BA and the Heathrow Fire Service along with the staff of Help For Heroes, it was the company of like minded Veterans and Service Personnel who were experiencing similar experiences.
Now entering the £10 Million simulator pod set up to replicate a Boeing 747, a fully immersive experience with realistic principles of flight just without the wings! Sitting in this pod gave me focus as I strapped into the harness I focused on the ‘outside’ world and the equipment in the cockpit . Clearance was given throttle up flaps adjusted and brakes released. Pulling up the nose of the plane leaving the runway, I was now in flight heading up to 3000 feet retracting the gears. I felt the amazing sense of relief the anxiety and hypervigilance drained from my PTSD bug and began to feed the new bug of flight. Not for a long time had I felt so ‘normal’ in a frankly abnormal situation.

Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engine

Heathrow Fire Service Training

After landing and taking off a number of times, the experience came to a close. The day ended and the drive home. What an amazing experience one I am grateful for its showed me that I could do things I had lost the confidence to do.

Flight Simulator Pod

It showed me that I could do things outside of my comfort zone but by working hard talking to people and being open and honest that I have PTSD and that its horrendous at times I can and I will continue to work through this and offer the peer support to others to help them.

As a final note this one day took two days out of me it wasn’t easier this was one day (6 hours it wiped me out for two, I am by far match fit but I am heading in the right direction.

As an extra bonus I met the inspirational Bruce Dickenson of Iron Maiden, who has done many amazing things in his life and supports our troops he also has a autobiography out called:

‘ What does this button do’

Richard and Bruce Dickinson

Thanks for not being bored, no matter what you think the sky is not the limit look beyond the limit and work towards it. You can do it I can do it.

R+ Z

An Open Blog to myself

Should you consider this….

Friday just past and the need arose to pay a visit to Urgent Care, hmm yep Friday night visit to a NHS facility, needs must.
I sit typing this with my loyal assistance dog (Ziggy) resting his head on me, reassuring me letting me know he is here for me. He is without doubt a lifesaver keeping me from the dark depths of suicide and supports me when I need him.

Jumping back to Friday, we all hear the stories that the NHS is at breaking point or in fact its already broken. I attend with my faithful assistance dog its early evening, calling ahead checking Ziggy can come with me. I walk in the seams are bursting the staff are visibly stressed. The noise the amount of people this is hell on earth.

Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) doesn’t tell you at what point its going to affect you or how but without doubt this was going to trigger me off. I checked in no problems Ziggy was relaxed, I was told where to sit. I walked across various number of people sitting down some with three or four family members with them. I looked for a seat there were none, I looked around Ziggy in tow plenty of people looking and reading out loud I am working please ignore me.

Waiting at the hospital

I could allow my blood to boil for the inconsiderate behaviour of those turning a visit into a family outing, I stood in the only space available. Vulnerable is the best way I could describe this moment however Ziggy was there supporting me. Within 30 seconds he acted did what he is trained to do, i mouthed at me and guided me outside away from the busy waiting area.
There is more I could detail in this and as with anything in my mind I could babble on but I wont, I just want to say I am eternally grateful to those who supported me through this. Years ago I would not have batted an eye.

I have severe PTSD I acknowledge this I want to remind myself of this and realise that as I feel defeated I have come a long way I am here. I have a long way to go but I will not be defeated.

R+Z

RUN, HIDE,TELL

Is Rt Honourable Tobias Elwood MP right?

After the tragic events in Westminster where a loner took it upon himself to take the lives of innocent people going about their normal day.

The Government and the Police advice is to follow three simple steps

RUN
HIDE
TELL

The sole purpose of this advice is to afford protection to you the public. Today during the inquest and quoted in various media sources Mr Ellwood saying

“But I find myself countering the advice somewhat because as we saw in the Manchester attack, London Bridge and Westminster as well the message gets through that no terrorist is going to win”

Mr Ellwood during this attack ‘Stepped Up’. He did this with the deep and terrible knowledge that with terrorism there is always a threat of a secondary attack. Doing what he could to save the life of PC Palmer he did not hesitate he refused to leave and refused to give up.

The current UK threat is such that we pretty much live in a society where a terror attack is ‘highly likely’ these are sad times but it has become the norm. Do the words of Mr Ellwood undermine the advice? In short NO.

I have very little doubt in my mind that although in a ideal world when fighting terror we would all stand up and show them that they will not win.

Tragically this is not practical, during a terror attack you will experience a number of natural instincts these are;

FIGHT
FLIGHT
FREEZE

Until you are in this situation where your life is in danger or a significant event has occurred you wont know which of these it will be. I know what mine is and this comes as a result of significant hostile training and the ability through exposure to assess the dangers. This is however subject to change as this is the purest and oldest of human instincts and key to survival.

If a car is being driven at you, should you stand in the way? NO

If someone is armed with a weapon and you are unarmed untrained should you intervene? NO

If someone is going to blow themselves up….? the answer is NO

The locations of recent terror attacks have been in locations where the emergency service response has been minutes. It is there job to put their lives before yours yes that is their job, they then will have contingencies in place to manage the incident and protect and preserve life.

Now I have the utmost respect for Mr Elwood he reached the rank of Captain in the Royal Green Jackets, to get to this level you dont just turn up at the recruitment office and say

“ I want to be a Captain”

You have to work hard, train hard and learn fast. These skills are drilled into you so that in any given moment you are steadfast in adversity. When I joined The British Army the saying was;

“Be The Best”

I have no doubt I was and I am, as I am sure Mr Ellwood will be, with the standard caveat we are humans we make mistakes and we learn.

Although I have digressed slightly the facts remain I do not believe Mr Ellwood’s words should be interpreted in the direct literal sense. He does not expect you to stand in front of a terrorist and put your life at risk. If he does then this will be one of the mistakes he will learn from, to that end you should follow the advice above from Government.

RUN, HIDE,TELL

Finally I wish to thank the Emergency Services, Mr Ellwood and the other members of the public in the numerous attacks that have happened over the years for doing your bit

Choice or Pain?

dog on a train

What would you prefer?

Its accepted that some people like pain and some don’t, I know where I sit on this subject. The main thing that has led me to this blog and that is seeing the amount of dogs being pulled around and having pain used as a training tool.

Imagine this; you are walking down the street with your best friend, they are walking behind you, chatting away then all of a sudden grab the collar of your shirt an choke you. Why because they have decided to change direction and cross the road!

Now with that in mind switch it around you are walking your beloved best friend this time its a dog. You are walking along , decide to stop and change direction without warning you tug the lead. Now what has happened there is your crushed your beloved pets windpipe!
So looking at these two examples the source of the problem lies in the breakdown in communication, how do you resolve this?
The facts are you give your dog the choice, your bond will be significantly better. The list of does and don’ts that I use with Ziggy are here;

Do
Use a Harness

Use treats (Choice)
Reward your dog for the right behaviours.

Don’t
Don’t use a collar to check your dog, (pain)
Don’t chastise your dog because you think they got it wrong.

The techniques I use with Ziggy as a PTSD Assistance Dog is choice and reward. When walking and I want to change direction I simply communicate with him with simple clear commands. I use “This Way”. What this does is drawers his attention to me. Then the direction we want/ intend to go.

We started at a young age and using methods provided by Kirsten Dillion, to reward and give Ziggy the choice. Every time we walk and want to change direction I say “this way” and he follows, this is because when we trained we imprinted those words with a positive reward i.e. a treat.

When he didn’t do this we just stopped no tugging no dragging just no reward no movement, each time he heard “this way” and followed he was rewarded. Slowly I began removing and randomizing the reward this then trained him to decide what to do. This was then his choice no pain, he followed this option because there was a chance of a reward but crucially no pain.

So when it comes to you make the choice if you like pain but when it comes to your dog or any animal in fact give them the choice, yes influence it with training but never use pain. Ultimately this choice induces trust this is an essential part of the relationship. Ziggy is not a tool he is a partner a best friend and to do this trust is crucial and he must make the choice to participate and helping me is choice.

Much love

R+ Z