VETERAN SUICIDES - A CRISIS?
by Dr. Richard Cullen | 05th Jun 2018
VETERAN SUICIDES - A CRISIS?
THIS IS WHAT DEPTHERAPY ACHIEVES IN HELPING OUR VETERANS TO OVERCOME PTSD
"THE HEALING POWER OF THE OCEANS"
Tom Oates’, Tom Swarbrick’s, James Wilding's and Jason Cowan's give open, honest and very personal feedback on the May 2018 Roots Red Sea Expedition.
By Richard Cullen
Whether the recent headlines in the Daily Mirror, well known for its sensationalism, are true or not, the issue of UK Veteran's taking their own lives needs to be addressed. Some of the figures are wrong but there are a lot of our Veterans who are struggling on a daily basis with PTSD.
84 MEN UNDER 45 TAKE THEIR LIFE EACH WEEK IN THE UK
84 males commit take their own lives in the UK each week, the highest rates are found in the under 45 age category. There will within this number be UK Armed Services’ veterans. Whether veterans who take their own lives are suffering from PTSD or other mental illnesses is another matter and the Mirror’s bland assertions are not helpful.
Many who purport to suffer from PTSD have never been clinically diagnosed as suffering from the illness.
The ‘macho’ culture of the UK Armed Services frequently prevents those who suffer from PTSD seeking professional help and support such as in the case of Christopher Butcher.
David Finkel in his book 'Thank You For Your Service' highlights are number of cases of PTSD in USA veterans. This is the world that many of those we work with live in on a daily basis. In Deptherapy we reach out to the hard to reach, we work to gain their trust and to bring them on to the Deptherapy programme.
“He began to take sleeping pills to fall asleep and another type of pill to get back to sleep when he woke up. He took other pills, too, some for pain, others for anxiety. He began to drink so much vodka that his skin smelled of it and then he started mentioning suicide.” Theresa Aieti
DEPTHERAPY MAY 2018 ROOTS RED SEA EXPEDITION
Tom Oates, Tom Swarbrick, James Wilding and Jason Cowan have been in the darkest of places, at the worst taking their own lives seemed the best option to give them peace from their demons. In one instance trying to take their own life by hanging, while deployed in Afghan, only being prevented from doing so by a colleague who discovered them. All four were part of the PADI Open Water programme on the expedition.
The two Toms were referred to us through Stuart Croxford of the Endeavour Fund
Tom Oates ‘Oatsie’ formerly Scots’ Guards
Words cannot really describe the effect the week with Deptherapy on the Roots Red Sea expedition has had on me, suppose it all starts with getting a phone call from Richard.
First of all I need to tell you how hard it has been for me to write this note. I have complex PTSD which means have not just experienced one traumatic incident but several. We all wrote a bit about ourselves for the Deptherapy Facebook page before the expedition. If you read that you will know the vehicle I was in was hit by an IED in Afghanistan, there were other things but when I returned home I was crossing the road holding my girlfriend Sarah’s hand when she was hit by a car and died. Writing this, I have needed Richard’s help and support or I would never have finished it. I looked at what I had written each day and couldn’t do anymore. Writing my story frightened me, I knew what I wanted to say but what I wanted to say meant confronting my demons. My world is different to yours unless you have suffered PTSD and no two cases of PTSD are the same. My world until Roots was one of darkness, a pit so deep and dark that many times I came close to ending my life. You lose any sense of self-worth. I was a good soldier, I was a proud soldier, I was bright, had loads of friends, I loved life. Then the traumas happened and life went downhill, I lost my friends, I became reclusive, I dreaded the night because the nightmares came, reliving traumas I want to put behind me. When you hear veterans talk about PTSD they talk about being damaged, broken and of being bad people, I feel, or rather felt all of those. Addressing how bad my life had become in this note was so hard, admitting I am not the person I was is so hard. I have been in therapy for a long time, nothing seems to change, and confronting my demons is something I have struggled with. Before I went to Roots with Deptherapy I described myself to Richard as being emotionally dead, of being a shell of the former Tom Oates, where every single day was a struggle. But one week, just one week has given me back my pride, I know I am not alone I have a whole charity supporting me. In one week I learned to trust again, I know I can challenge my demons, as hard as it is I can pull myself out of the pit. I was terrified of going to Roots, yet Deptherapy supported me before the trip as it did all the new guys and it is supporting me now helping me to grow. I can take inspiration from Chris Middleton and others on the trip, from my four buddies on the Open Water Course and from a brilliant team. One day I didn’t take my meds and my instructor Andy realised there was something wrong, he sat with me and I dumped my story on him, it made me feel better.
People judge those with PTSD and mental illnesses, we are seen as freaks, as dangerous, but people don’t know who we are, or our stories. I found out that Deptherapy invests heavily in mental health awareness and safeguarding. Eleven people on the trip had been mental health first aid trained, that is some commitment. Don’t ever judge us on the basis that you think you know what it is like to be mentally ill. Richard uses a slide about Deptherapy that quotes one of the programme members which says; “The worst thing you can do is show us pity”, I, we don’t need pity, we need your support we need your understanding. If I have a panic attack it is not going to hurt you, it might hurt me, if I have a flashback it is not going to hurt you, if I have an anxiety attack it is not going to hurt you.
I am not a soldier anymore, I am not that proud Scots’ Guardsman who loved his job, who believed in what he did, I am Tom Oates, yes I am a veteran but most importantly I am a civilian now, I am a member of your community, I am your neighbour and I hope I can be your friend. I can only do that with the continued support of Deptherapy and of society generally.
This has taken me days to write, there have been tears, there has been pain but I needed to say it and hope it helps you all to understand me and my brothers in arms who suffer with mental health issues.
I want to be well again and for the darkness to go away, at last in my messed up life I can at last see the light. So this is what Deptherapy and Roots has done for me:
For me this was a dream world, before joining the Army and then suffering from complex PTSD I was studying animal science. I wanted to be a marine biologist but my condition had made me believe this was no longer possible. Then I am offered the chance to learn to scuba dive. Could my dreams become reality, this is how my life started to change.
Normally I find it really hard to trust people and let people into my life as back home I do not go out of my way to meet people or step out of my comfort zone. I was introduced to Richard Cullen by the Endeavour Fund and then I had a phone call from him explaining what Deptherapy is, what they do and how they help people like myself to change their lives, we instantly seemed to have a bond and he fully understood me.
It was very difficult, to begin with, as Richard agreed to get everything sorted for Roots which was a task in itself, I do tend to worry and over think a bit too much. Roots quickly approached and being nervous was a bit of an understatement.
I was down in London for a reunion and asked Richard if I could meet him, I asked Tom Swarbrick to join us, as he was going to Roots on the Open Water Course and is a good mate. Michael Hawley who had been on the last Open Water course said he would join us. We met in Trafalgar Square and Tom who was really nervous about meeting Richard, with some cajoling from me and Richard eventually turned up. We went for a coffee then to a pub. Richard understood us both and just made the two of us feel at ease. No one has ever understood me like he does, there is no judgement, just someone who is there to support you and to listen. It was like he had known us for years and knew what we were going through. Michael was the same they just knew what we were about. I felt really nervous at one stage and Richard just put his arm round my shoulder told me everything was good.
I checked my emails one day and was added to a group email conversation with a lady called Julie Romani who wanted to donate kit to Deptherapy and who wanted to personally meet myself with me living literally 5 minutes around the corner. Her son, Jordan, who was not a soldier, had taken his own life last year whilst diagnosed with mental health issues.. Julie has started a campaign to increase greater awareness of mental health issues. Julie who is Lady Julie Romani had also lost her husband a couple of years ago to prostate cancer. She had contacted Richard through the Deptherapy website and told him her son had been a scuba diver and she wanted his kit to be used to change other peoples’ lives. I was the same height etc as her son, so Richard said I could benefit from the kit as I lived so close.
That day dawned and I was lucky enough to be supported by Deptherapy Ambassador Ben Lee whom I only had the pleasure of chatting via messenger before going to meet Julie. To be honest I think we were both as nervous as each other since we aren't exactly people persons. We were welcomed with open arms and made to feel at home and she was one of the nicest individuals I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. She wanted to personally donate some of the kit to me which was a shock to me as I hadn’t even stepped in the water yet, let alone thinking about kit!
Amongst other things I got a dry suit, a Scubapro X Black BCD, a set of regulators, a computer, wetsuit etc. Just so generous, so kind.
I was still so nervous about going to Roots and meeting everyone but I knew Tom, Ben, Michael and Richard. Ben travels down the day before the flight and stays overnight at the Premier Inn, North Terminal Gatwick. Quite a few of the guys stay there before expeds. Ben drove me down and I had the spare bed in Richard’s room. We all met up for a drink and dinner and meeting the other guys whose names I kept seeing on the Facebook pages like Chris and Andy was great, everyone is just so chilled.
My nerves got worse thinking of meeting the other 20+ people on the expedition but it was all ok, everyone was just so nice and with the Deptherapy tee shirt you were part of a team. Thomas Cook had their top manager there and we had allocated check in desks, daft but it made me feel like royalty. We had priority boarding and when the captain announced that we were on the plane there was clapping and cheering from the other passengers, me the tears welled up.
Eventually we got to Roots and I know Tom Swarbrick has written about the first team meeting when Richard said it was ok to cry, I thought being squaddies there would be some reaction but everyone accepted it. That is what Deptherapy is about. Most of the guys have been on the same place as me. Being me is difficult, I have silly thoughts, I get tense over nothing, I have anxiety attacks and I need space.
At that first meeting everyone introduced themselves and told their story, I couldn’t, I just couldn’t face telling my story from Afghan or about Sarah’s death. When the meeting finished Richard came to check I was ok and we had a chat.
Next morning I wanted to scream, anxiety levels were so high, all these new people, new place, I wasn’t coping. At breakfast the senior programme members of the exped knew what was happening and made us feel at ease. The Army banter was there, I have missed it so much, but it is a different banter, one that is sensitive to each individual’s feelings. Before we met our instructors there was an exercise for the four who were completing the Pros’ course, a course that teaches instructors how to teach people with disabilities to dive. They needed 12+ people for the exercise, where groups are given mental and or physical challenges then have to come together to achieve a simple task. I was a tetraplegic and not being allowed to move was such a challenge. We did not achieve the task but nor has anyone else ever.
Down to the pool with our instructors Andy and Carl with Chris Middleton as the DM. There were five of us me, Tom, James, Stuart and Jason. Theory, quizzes, exams, sorting kit, getting in the pool, so much going on in my mind but there is this calmness around how everything is done, the instructors are chilled and check how you are. Then you put your head under the water and breathe, I might have been in the pool but for me it was the first step towards my dream. My mind was at rest, my head was clear for the first time in years. When we came up after that first dive we all talked about how nervous we were before we came to Roots and even about getting in the pool. We all have PTSD so maybe we should have expected to be anxious.
Suddenly I found I had new friends, not just the guys on the open water course, but the other courses, all the instructional team and the four on the Pros’ Course and Richard was always there if I needed support, he is my buddy under the Peer Support Scheme that Deptherapy runs, I have a feeling he takes the difficult cases.
Unless you have acute PTSD you cannot understand what daily life is like but everything changed at Roots, I felt my old self, laughing, smiling and being happy. I was surrounded by friends, all who seemed to understand.
The we went into open water for dives 3/4/5 of our confined dives, the team had assessed the conditions, flat calm no current and said it was the equivalent of confined water. I just went down that line and in a few inches of water was confronted with coral and all types of fishes. I was in a different world I was at peace with myself, the quiet, the warmth, the clear blue waters and life everywhere.
I had a chance to talk to Tom Dallison, the Head of Science from Coral Cay, who was running one of the courses, about my dream to become a marine biologist, he gave me so much encouragement.
Things got better and better and when I passed the exam with 100% I was so proud, I even got to dive with Richard.
I still had bad times, I know I will for some time yet but Deptherapy really teaches you to manage your PTSD, they are just so matter of fact about it and there is no psycho-babble just tons of support and listening, if you need to cry you can cry, if you need a hug you get one.
I am a PADI Open Water Diver and a Deep Adventure Diver and so proud, so proud.
We went to the Salem Express to dive on the last day of diving. Just so excited and did the first dive and all I can say is it was beautiful but during lunch my anxiety kicked in, why I don’t know but I was worried. Richard knew there was something wrong and chatted to me and said it was ok not to dive.
The last night was great fun but I went to bed early. But for me the buzz was still there.
Home now in my flat, with my dog and yeah it has been difficult but all the open water guys are chatting on Facebook, Tom and Richard talk to me all the time and I just can’t wait to get under the water again. I am getting the boot size changed on my dry suit then I am dry suit diving with Richard, Jon and Andy.
In one week my whole life has been changed I can see the man I used to be, the man who loved life. I can see a future, a bright future, I know I am going to need help but I know that I will get that support from Richard, the team and my open water buddies.
I just want to dip my head under the water again so I can be free and so I can live my dream of being a marine biologist.
Tom Swarbrick formerly Royal Anglian Regiment
“So when I was first told about Deptherpy, I was a bit in disbelief that these people that haven’t ever met me were willing to do something so amazing for me for nothing, I even asked a couple of times ‘what do you want from me’ in which the reply was every time ‘nothing’ which all through my life I’ve never had anyone just give me something.
I find it difficult to trust people, Tom Oates who I had met on a skiing trip was meeting Rich and a guy called Michael who had been on the last open water course, in Central London. Tom wanted me to join them, in the morning I got cold feet, I was so nervous. I called Rich and he convinced me to come, best decision ever. I kept hearing about the Deptherapy family and I soon realised that is the truth.
The night before we flew to Egypt Rich, Tom and a few of the other lads were staying at the Gatwick Premier Inn. Rich arranged for me to flop in one of the guy’s rooms. Another good decision, met some of the movers and shakers in the charity, Chris, Ben and Andy + Tom and James were there, James was on the open water course with us. Just made so welcome.
We got to Roots late due to a flight delay, food was followed by a team meeting. I knew I was with mates, amputees, broken backs but nearly all had the same story PTSD. Rich told us all to dump the macho otherwise we wouldn’t move forward. The experienced guys had heard this before but he told us it was ok to cry, to need a hug, to hold hands for reassurance if we needed to. Never heard anyone say that before to a bunch of squaddies.
The first evening at Roots we were told about the charity, the PADI system and then we discussed PTSD. I guess Rich rocked the five newbies when he said “You can never be who you were before you were injured or suffered PTSD but you can live a full, loving and productive life, but if you are going to be well, you need to want to be well or you continue in the downward spiral that is PTSD. It is your choice, your decision you have the power to make yourself well.” No one had ever said that to me, James, Tom, Stuart or Jason.
“If you are going to be well, you need to want to be well, it is your choice”.
When I have seen psychiatrists and psychologists they have never said that, they keep taking me back to what caused my survivor guilt and PTSD. Rich said you just put your trauma is a series of boxes in your head, learn to be able to open, close and unlock that box.
I had never thought I had the power to heal myself and then Rich talked about life being a book and that if we wanted we could all open a new chapter and start writing our new future. By the end of the week we were all talking about our book.
The support network is there before the expedition, it came to life on the expedition but then it kicks in on return home. Some of us are meeting up, everyone is different. There is always someone there for you. I am severely dyslexic, something lots of people struggle with but the Deptherapy team just took it in their stride and I got 100% in my final Open Water exam. So proud, but my instructors were proud of me and at the team meeting in the evening Rich announced the result and everyone clapped.
Now for the diving side of things, before I went out there my normal routine would be getting drunk to deal with my PTSD, survivor guilt, depression and anxiety. Since I have been back all I’m doing it’s trying to get myself in to a more secure job so I can save up and go diving again, whether it’s in the UK or somewhere hot, I don’t care I just want to get back in the water and let the water make all my problems float away.
The future of diving for me, my father has moved to Taiwan 3 years ago now and I haven’t seen him since, he is a dive master and now I have my open water diving course done it means we have something that we can do together which we both love as I haven’t had him in my life that much which means we finally have something to bond over all while helping me clear my head.
James Wilding formerly Royal Engineers
“First of all I would like to thank you on a personal level, if it wasn't for people like you then myself and many others would be dead, you truly are a hero in my eyes mate and you give me inspiration, I am proud to call you my friend.
The week in Egypt was incredible, even without the diving, the friendships gained and sense of security I now feel I have, has made a world of difference. There is nothing worse than feeling lonely and battling demons on your own. Despite having people around me, nothing compares to the support from people who literally go well out of their way to help someone they have never met.
I was nervous about getting into the water, I wasn't sure about how I would feel inhaling air while beneath the surface and was ignorant about aquatic life, however I will never forget that first feeling of being truly without stress, I now crave the water to be free.
I was helped every step of the way and I am grateful for the patience from the instructors, they made learning to dive one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.
Deptherapy has given me the skills and tools to not only pursue my new found love for diving, but be the man I once was, they have pulled me from the dreaded downward spiral that so many of us find ourselves in, unfortunately many never return.
It is so important that the work you guys do continues, for our brothers and sisters sake, every life you guys save or change, is changing a whole network of families lives for the better, you all have my upmost respect and I thank you deeply from the bottom of my heart, and on my families behalf, I salute you.”
Jason Cowan formerly 1 Scots
“Mate I cannot believe how much I’ve fell in love with this charity and diving! I’ve never came across anyone who helps guys like you do Richard!
For the first time since I came back from Afghanistan I honestly feel like I have friends and support and someone to turn to that genuinely understands and cares and that is priceless!
Where do I begin with what Deptherapy has done for me.... I started off heading to the airport as a bag of nerves, letting my anxiety take over and to be quite honest I was ready to just go home and climb back into bed. After meeting everyone I was shocked at how close and tight knit this group was. Fast forward 24 hours and I was in the water panicking and struggling to put my head underwater with a regulator in. Fast forward another 48 hours and I was at 18 metres deep on the house reef and getting ready to dive a ship wreck in the middle of the ocean.
All down to the help and support I was given by instructors and everyone around me. I couldn’t believe it and I can’t put it into words.
For the first time in 5 years I thought of nothing other than right now. Where I was, was all that mattered! It gave me a completely new look at life. Instead of stressing about work and day to day life all I’m thinking about is the water and the next time I can go diving.
It’s a release and a therapy in itself. I went to roots and didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t happy with myself or my life. I had no interest in people, friends or doing anything out-with work. I left roots with a passion and love for the ocean and diving, 30 best friends and now I know no matter how bad things get if I stick on a wetsuit and strap on a tank I become in control of my PTSD.”
only thing i gotta say to you jason is that its not all down to everyone else. YOU are the one who got pushed way outside your comfort zone, multiple times and kept on trucking. we were all along for your journey, what a journey its been, and a what a pleasure its been to watch.... but the story goes on 😁...get you drysuit done