Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Walking with the wounded

It is no secret that war veterans suffer injuries each and every single day, but a lot of people don't stop and think about the hidden wounds that they have to deal with - the mental illnesses and psychological scars as a result of going through such awful experiences.

During my work experience when I was a medical student, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to spend some time with a couple of psychiatrists that worked with the charity Combat Stress. Combat Stress is a mental health charity for veterans, providing treatment and support services free of charge to those that need it. I sat in a couple of consultations and watched as tough-looking middle-aged men broke down in front of me whilst describing the horrors they had seen whilst at war. I will never forget one man telling us about having to shoot a group of boys that were barely in their 20's because they were part of the enemy group. Seeing these men and women suffering so much with flashbacks and depression due to their experiences whilst defending our country was heart-breaking - their mental wounds were more distressing than their physical ones.

Walking With The Wounded is a charity set up in 2010 that raises money to re-educate and re-train wounded veterans, that have suffered either physical, mental or social injuries, to give them more independence outside of the forces. Their mission is to help servicemen and women to get new jobs outside of the military, reintegrate them into society, and provide long-term security for themselves and their families.

In 2011 a team supporting Walking With The Wounded, including 4 wounded soldiers and Prince Harry, completed a 200 mile expedition to reach the North Pole. They then did the same in 2013 but instead trekked to the South Pole. This year 6 wounded veterans, one of whom suffers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, have been set the task of walking 1000 miles from Inverness in Northern Scotland to Buckingham Palace, dubbed 'The Walk of Britain'.

Today the team walked 17 miles through Shropshire, from Church Stretton to Ludlow, and Prince Harry once again joined them. The Prince is the patron for the Walk of Britain and is doing his very best to raise awareness around veterans and their injuries, including those that are consequently suffering with mental health problems.

He spoke out about the event, saying: "People up and down the country will get to see first-hand the determination and resolve of those who have served, and in particular those who have been injured or suffered hidden wounds... PTSD and mental injury can make life a daily struggle."

He also added: "It's also important to keep mental health issues in perspective. We should remind people that nearly all cases end well, whether it be total cure, adjustment of life, or the ability for the individual to accept and admit the issues that face them, amongst a tricky culture of stigma".

Today Prince Harry particularly highlighted the importance of challenging the stigma around mental health, saying: "Mental health is a sensitive subject but it doesn't need to be. We need to talk about it more, get rid of the stigma." 

I think it's amazing that such a high-profile person is talking about mental illnesses - it is hopefully another thing that will make people think a little more positively about it. Prince Harry is highlighting the importance of mental health in servicemen and women, but I am hoping that it will also influence the views about people that are not in the forces, but that also suffer with psychological illnesses every single day. Let's keep on pushing to change the stigma around mental health!

If you would like to support the Walk of Britain, you can buy a mile and help the charity here.
A river cuts through a rock not because of its power but its persistence.

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