Matt Boyle, Veterans Wellbeing Advisor with Positive Minds, shares his lived experience
Matt Boyle, Veterans Wellbeing Advisor with Positive Minds, shares his lived experience of being a father, how his relationships have been challenged due to his service and why families of veterans should reach out for help.
In a way veterans mental health has shaped my life. I have always had an awareness that I never want to end up like my father.
Growing up, the son of a veteran, I never really knew my biological father. He left when I was less than 5 Years old and I spent time in and out of refuges with my mother and siblings. Following my return from my first deployment to Afghanistan in 2002 I decided to try and find him.
On our first meeting it was easy to see that that he was suffering from unresolved mental health issues from his own service and from his experiences in Northern Ireland in the early 70s. I could see how, left untreated, his mental health was caught in a spiralling decent. At that time there was a lack of understanding and treatment within the Military.
The actions and attitudes of my father and subsequent split from my mother would have been treated very differently today.
During my own 24 years of service I, like many others, have had plenty of ups and downs when it comes to relationships. Having family and raising children in the military is not easy.
I got married when I 19 years old, having just returned from my second tour of duty. Three years later my first son was born. As you can imagine, the world changed in September 2001 for all of us, the following years saw a step change in operational tempo. I spent a lot more time away, my relationship with his mother didn't survive the pressure but I’d drive 600 miles to see him.
I'd met a new partner when I returned from a tour of Iraq in 2005. She had a son the same age as my own. I stepped up and was there for him, filling the gap that his own father had left. For several years as the boys grew up, we would spend lots of time together. My new partner became pregnant, and gave birth to my youngest son, days before I had to deploy on my second tour of Afghanistan.
During that second deployment to Afghanistan I was badly wounded. I spent a lot of time dealing with this; physical and mental injuries took its toll on my relationship. Typical of the ‘flight or fight’ response, I threw myself back into work, following a third deployment to Afghanistan, resulting in the end of this relationship too.
I have always been very conscious of my relationship with my own father, the mistakes he had made and how it impacted, affecting my life growing up. I was determined that my sons would have a Father and deserved better.
My own mental health had suffered through my service, my experiences and the operations I have deployed on, it's not easy being a Soldier or a Combat Medic. How can you just turn that off when you come home?
I can't change that, but what I can do is make the time I do have with my children special; I still try to do all of those things what a father should do. I try to make the memories that I never had with my own father. For me it is the only way to break the cycle.
Our best is all we can do. Christmas adds extra pressure when you are already needing help. Seeking first aid for poor mental health is just as important to your family as it is for you and you owe it to yourself and them to reach out.
The new NHS 111 service means you or your family can get help with mental health crisis immediately, so do call. It could change your life and that of your loved ones this Christmas.
For more information on the veterans’ mental health NHS 111 service, available to veterans and their families across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, visit www.solent.nhs.uk