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Hugh's Story

Army Veteran Hugh

In his own words.

“Combat Stress has given me back things that I thought had been taken away”

“I came to the Army a bit later in life, as I joined the Royal Irish Regiment Reserves when I was 24. I thought I’d found my calling and in total I was with the Army for 10 years.

“During that time I completely threw myself into Army life and put my hand up for everything; I did a lot of training in the Brecon Beacons and I served in Kenya amongst other places. After three years in the Reserves I went full time and was deployed to Afghanistan, serving in a few locations over there.

“I knew when I came home from Afghanistan in 2010 that something wasn’t right with me, but I pushed it to the back of my mind. I had that squaddie mentality of just getting on with it and used work as a crutch, keeping active so I didn’t have to think. I remember being in Afghanistan on the Monday and by the Thursday I was in my local supermarket with my mum – it all seemed so surreal after what I’d just experienced.

“I never really talked about what happened in Afghanistan – people asked me about it and I’d say it was brilliant and just talked about the ‘glamorous” bits. But deep down I was hiding that I’d lost my mate there, I’d seen people injured and I wasn’t telling anyone about that. That was how I dealt with it; I was blagging it all the time by pretending I was ok. But I wasn’t ok – I suffered from sleeplessness, anger and hypervigilance. I carried a lot of guilt - why had I survived when others I was there with hadn’t?

“In 2015 I had a mental breakdown. I was cleaning my service pistol and put it to my head, thinking I could end it all. I shrugged it off and called my unit but they didn’t really offer much practical support, instead they removed my pistol and sent me back home on medical leave.

“By 2016 I was going through the process of being discharged from the Army and knew I had to do something about my mental health so I spoke to my GP and was put on a waiting list to receive help. I was on the internet when I saw Combat Stress’ details, so I called the Helpline. Through Combat Stress’ Belfast Hub I saw a psychiatrist who said that for me Pandora’s box had opened and I was diagnosed with PTSD.

“I received help over the next six years, including a week-long residential programme with other veterans. That was the main thing that helped me, as it showed me that I’m not alone. I met so many other squaddies who’d had similar experiences and it made me realise it was ok to need help. I wasn’t physically lonely, but I’d experienced mental loneliness with my PTSD and now here were other people like me who had lived through the same thing.

“I know that Combat Stress is there for me. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic the charity made sure I could continue treatment by giving me an electronic tablet to access my psychiatry, occupational therapy and peer support appointments.

“Combat Stress has given me back things that I thought had been taken away from me - I can talk to my wife about my mental health now, whereas before I didn’t say a word. I also have stability in my life - I’ve gone from refusing to believe I need help, to having regular appointments to help me.

“I would say to other veterans; there is help out there if you need it and it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for it.”


November 2022