'I was broken' - Veteran delayed seeking mental health support for four years
PUBLISHED: 07:53 21 January 2019 | UPDATED: 14:33 21 January 2019
A Norfolk army veteran who represented Britain at the Invictus Games said reluctance to seek mental health support left him "depressed and broken".
Andrew Taylor, 46, from Taverham in Norwich, was one of just three athletes from the county to take part in the championships held in Australia in 2018.
But for four years prior to the Games, Mr Taylor had battled to keep his inner struggles a secret.
The former Royal Army Medical Corps officer said: “I was cocooned in my own little bubble. I knew I was heading down a slippery slope - I felt depressed and frustrated.
“I’d gone from being a serving soldier, on top of my game and doing a job I loved to being someone who was effectively broken with no feelings of worth or self-purpose.”
New figures from a recent survey carried out by the veterans charity Help for Heroes reveal that 30pc of veterans have never sought mental health support, including for post-traumatic stress disorder, with an average delay of four years for those who do.
It reveals the extent of the stigma, with 28pc of veterans saying they believe civilian services won’t understand them, while 25pc say they fear being treated differently by friends, and 19pc by family.
Mr Taylor suffered serious back wounds in a suicide bomb attack while serving in Afghanistan in 2008, and was discharged in 2013.
He struggled to adjust to life as a civilian, and said: “I lost my sense of identity, my career, the friendships I’d made and the excitement that my job had given me.
“I felt that I’d gone from hero to zero.”
But he didn’t ask for help, and became argumentative and isolated.
He said: “For a long time, I thought I could fix myself.
“When those around me told me I’d become withdrawn I didn’t listen. I just thought I was dealing with things my way.”
But after coming close to a confrontation with two people while filling his car up with petrol one day, Mr Taylor realised he needed support.
“I overheard a conversation between two strangers,” he said.
“I felt an intense anger building inside me about the way they were talking, because, to me, it felt like they didn’t have a clue about what was going on in the world.
“I thought about how close I’d come to confronting them, and I knew then that I needed help.”
He received counselling from the Help for Heroes psychological wellbeing team and was diagnosed with an adjustment disorder, which set him on the road to recovery.
“It was time for a change,” he added.
“I’d sat there deteriorating for four years thinking I could cope by myself and that I was the answer to this problem and I just had to figure it out.
“But it didn’t happen for me until I sought help and assistance.
“I’m now looking forwards rather than backwards, and looking to what the future holds.”
And in 2018, Mr Taylor represented the UK in adaptive sailing and powerlifting in Sydney.
His said his message to anyone struggling is: “Make that decision to step forward and ask for help, because it is there.”
Karen Mead, head of psychological wellbeing at Help for Heroes, said: “Andrew’s story is the reality for thousands of military personnel.
“Veterans are not accessing mental health support when they need it and we believe this needs to change.
“Our campaign is asking the nation to call time on stigma and to let those who have served their country know it’s okay to ask for help.
“We need support to help us fund vital programmes to ensure we can continue to be there and respond quickly when veterans do take that big step and ask for support.”
Help for Heroes is launching the Cut the Clock campaign on Monday, January 21, known as ‘Blue Monday’, to highlight the four year wait and support those struggling in silence.
Former England rugby player Matt Dawson will launch the campaign, on what is thought to be the gloomiest day of the year, and iconic buildings across the UK will light up in support of veterans, including Colchester Castle, where the Help for Heroes #StigmaClock will count down to encourage acts of support by members of the public at CutTheClock.com.
The charity supported more than 4,000 veterans between August 2017 and August 2018, and gave psychological support to 881.