Armistice Day difficult for veterans with PTSD

11 November 2014

Armistice Day can be a difficult time for some veterans. It can bring back distressing memories of times in service and also falls close to Bonfire night which can cause an increase in symptoms for sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Robert Andrews, 43, from south east London, served in Afghanistan for a three-year period and suffers from PTSD. Although he is on the road to recovery, and has come a long way, he has previously found this time of year challenging. The TV and newspapers are full of images of military personnel and he found that fireworks triggered flashbacks to his experiences in Afghanistan. 

He explained, "Historically, I have found Armistice Day difficult. There are still memories which haunt me. Memories, which I am currently working through and it can bring these things back."

Dr Deirdre MacManus, Consultant Psychiatrist for our London Veterans' Service (LVS), explains how it is common for veterans who suffer from PTSD to find November 11 challenging.

"Remembrance Day serves to remind all serving and ex-serving personnel of their experiences in military service, both good and bad. For those with PTSD, it can cause an increase in their re-experiencing of past traumas, for example through increased nightmares or flashbacks, as for these few days they are bombarded by reminders of things they are trying to forget", she said.

Robert was part of a helicopter air rescue crew picking up seriously injured or killed civilians and allied troops.

"From 2009 I was deployed on four tours, for around three month stints and during this time I was based at Camp Bastion and Kandahar. Whilst it was all happening I was OK as you just get on with your job, but when I got home I began to struggle", he explained.

His partner first noticed a change in behaviour when he returned home and put him in touch with Combat Stress who referred him to Camden & Islington NHS Foundation Trust's London Veterans' Service.

"I found I was struggling with my temper and was getting angry over nothing. I was shouting out in my sleep, having nightmares. I felt anxious and on edge, almost to the point of paranoia."

"Public transport was something which I found difficult to use - I felt like I needed to be as close to an exit as possible. I felt quite claustrophobic.

"I also had flashbacks, there was a particular smell which triggered this. And I still find fireworks scary. It's the bang. It unsettles me.

"Thanks to the treatment I've been receiving at the LVS, I no longer have nightmares or flashbacks. I'm still anxious on public transport and still find some memories difficult, but I feel I am starting to get my life back.

"Everyone has their problems and if it wasn't for Combat Stress putting me in touch with a service that can help I just don't know where I would be."

Now Robert works for a security company at Canary Wharf and although he admits he has previously considered returning to the navy it is not an option for him.

He explained, "I've been doing this for three and a half years and went into it straight after leaving the navy.

"The transition between the Armed forces and civilian life was difficult.

"Don't get me wrong, I have considered going back, but I know I wouldn't. It's not a possibility anymore because of my family. I feel more settled now and I feel like gradually I'm in a better place."

More information about the London Veterans' Service is avaliable on their website.

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