Veteran recalls how Op COURAGE helped him
Ian* (name changed) served in the Territorial Army (now the Army Reserve) and was a Private Soldier for seven years. Due to the training cycle, Ian missed active service but still underwent the intensive training for both Conventional and Peace Support operations. Ian joined the Territorial Army because he wanted a challenge and loved the team work and team spirit. His grandparents had served during the second world war, so when Ian decided to join the Army, they were very supportive and giving something back in terms of serving the country felt like a natural thing to do.
Thinking back to that time, Ian remembers the everlasting imprint his time serving his country had on him. “This was my chance to do the things you couldn’t do in civilian life. Overall, it developed my communications skills and the camaraderie meant everything to me. The military training helps you think about how your actions affect others in your team, and that's something that has stayed with me."
Ian’s previous experience with accessing mental health services was disorganised and there was never a clear direction as to where to go to access help. “With the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, I felt more isolated than ever and not being in contact with my friends and family exacerbated my condition.”
“It was coming up to Christmas and I found myself listening to a Podcast at 3am one morning talking about mental health support for veterans was available through a new service called Op COURAGE. This sounded like a solution for me and I thought why not, the worst thing that can happen is that no one will come back to me.
Ian followed up and called NHS on 111, saying he was a Veteran and needed help. He was then put through to a Peer Support Worker who explained to him that they had lived experience and were able to help him access immediate support. “By 9.30pm I was referred into the High Intensity Service, the crisis response part of Op COURAGE. I had my initial assessment done then and there; absolutely unheard of in my previous experience. Frankly I was amazed that there was a service that operated outside of 9-5, the fact that they called to let me know I was now under their care gave me real hope and a reason to keep going.”
Two days later Ian was called by a Clinical Psychologist and a plan was put in place before Christmas. For the first time in years, Ian felt hopeful. “My first session was very in depth and I was not used to having direct access to a Clinical Psychologist. By the end of that call I thought that this is a service that delivers, is invested in me and is not just doing the bare minimum – they gave me everything I needed.”
To date, Ian has had over 10 sessions with a Clinical Psychologist and is feeling much more supported than ever. “I know I can contact a Peer Support Worker or a Clinician when things get dark. The support is tailored to what is needed when I need it. The Peer Support Workers are all, without exception, excellent. They are as skilled at helping you find solutions to problems, empowering you, as they are talking about mutual interests you both have.
“In my past, I have been taught strategies to deal with difficult and unpleasant thoughts and situations. I was initially a bit sceptical about Mindfulness, because it’s kind of the opposite of what you are taught in the military, you ‘confront’ problems head on, but I’ve found it really works for me. It sounds daft but it’s a bit like learning to swim, you put your head under the water and after a few times you can let the thoughts drift by. The power these negative thoughts have over you start to diminish.
“The service is working towards getting me back into daily routine and establishing some ‘normality’, including looking at my future career. As a result of my positive experience I am considering Forensic Psychology or general Adult Nursing; again that need to ‘fix things’ and help people never leaves but I can now channel it in a way that doesn’t hurt me but helps me.”
Ian is looking forward to his future and to a holiday he is planning in the coming months. “If you had told me six months ago that I should have hope and there is a service where people do care, I wouldn’t have believed you. But it is there for you and it’s called Op COURAGE.”