Combat Stress Lifeline


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Combat Stress

Sir Patrick Stewart presents an appeal on behalf of Combat Stress, the leading charity for military veterans suffering from PTSD and other psychological conditions.


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To his army colleagues, my father was a remarkable man.

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A soldier for many years, he was a man of discipline,

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organisation and charisma -

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regimental sergeant major, no less.

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But when his military service ended,

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I knew a different side of him.

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My mother, brother and I had to live with an unpredictable and

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frustrated man, unable at times to control his emotions or his fists.

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I was seven years old when I first saw him hit my mother

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and it happened frequently throughout my childhood.

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I never understood why he was so volatile at home,

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while in his military career he had been a superstar.

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But it was only two years ago I discovered that my father had

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suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder,

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a debilitating psychological condition

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that affects ex-servicemen,

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often when they've left the battlefield

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and returned to civilian life.

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It's difficult for me to imagine

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what he must have been going through.

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But I now know how important it is to get

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help for the thousands of ex-servicemen who suffer

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from this condition

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and the loved ones and families who suffer too.

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James Saunders was deployed to the first Gulf War in 1991,

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at the age of 20.

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While in the field, he was caught in a friendly fire situation

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that almost cost him his life.

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You're just stood there, seeing your friends on fire,

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jumping out of wagons and things like that.

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You just have to go in and pick up guys and rescue them

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and get the hell out of there.

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You are constantly on alert - anything could happen at any moment.

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After the war, James returned to Britain,

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where he found out he was due to be a father.

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But things began to unravel

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when he suffered a devastating personal tragedy.

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My relationship deteriorated with my partner at the time and...

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Unfortunately, she lost the baby at birth

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and that was my trigger.

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Struggling to cope, James's mind kept returning to the battlefield.

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'I was having flashbacks to the friendly fire situation.

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'I was seeing the burning oil rigs.

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'I didn't comprehend why those things were coming back to haunt me.

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'Ended up using alcohol and drugs to cope

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'and I left the army in October '93.

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'I'd lost everything by that time.'

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James's situation got worse and worse.

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'I was behaving violently, verbally and physically.

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'I couldn't stop this behaviour, I couldn't control it.'

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It came to a head and I got into serious trouble with the police.

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In order for James to deal with these problems, he needed

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help to tackle the psychological injuries sustained in service.

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Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can destroy lives.

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It's incredibly common.

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One-in-five veterans will develop PTSD or related psychological trauma

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when they return from active service.

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With your help, we can tackle this problem.

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That's why I'm appealing to you

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on behalf of Combat Stress,

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the leading charity for war veterans suffering from PTSD

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and other mental health conditions.

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The pressures of combat can affect soldiers wherever they're deployed.

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Gary Driscoll undertook five tours of Northern Ireland,

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much of it spent on the notoriously dangerous Belfast streets.

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Within them five tours,

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I think there's been about six guys

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I've known that have died.

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You just literally had to get on with it.

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So you kind of put it to the back of your head.

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But the stress of what he'd experienced began to

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take its toll on Gary and his wife.

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Anxiety was setting in, where we'd go to a restaurant

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and I would insist, I would always make sure I had my back to the wall.

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'I was getting to drink too much.

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'After a while, the anger started to show.

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'She would then get quite scared, and then,

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'"Who is this guy? He's a different person."

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'I was thrown out for about a couple of months.

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'That was, I think, the turning point.'

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It needs to be remembered that servicemen and women have often

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had to endure month after month

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of extreme, high-stress situations.

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It's hard for the brain to cope

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and, years later, former soldiers can still be struggling to process

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those awful experiences.

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To make things even tougher to deal with for men like my father,

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any hint of mental instability

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can be an embarrassment -

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something to be ashamed of.

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At Combat Stress, therapists work hard to tackle this perception.

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Their three residential centres

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provide a place where veterans are able to open up

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about their experiences.

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We have our residential treatment centres,

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which bring people in and offer treatment programmes for things

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like post-traumatic stress disorder,

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anxiety, depression.

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Rebuilding their lives and

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their confidence is the key.

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Cin-cin!

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Combat Stress offer something totally unique -

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a safe, welcoming environment

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where veterans can be with other veterans,

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men and women who are going through

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the same thing as themselves.

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I rolled up, very sceptical,

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and sort of within hours, I felt at home.

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James attended a Combat Stress treatment centre

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regularly for six years,

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where occupational therapy proved

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to be a major tool in his recovery.

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It gives an opportunity for veterans

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to express what they're feeling

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and channel these anxieties,

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whether it is through painting, modelling, drawing.

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'For me, it was photography.

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'I just found a passion,

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which I hadn't had for a very long time.

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James has now set up his own photography business

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and moved in with his girlfriend.

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Combat Stress has provided support,

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provided care at every turn.

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They've provided something to

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allow me to take those steps on my own.

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I wouldn't have been able to turn my life around

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if it hadn't have been for them.

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Following three years of treatment for PTSD,

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Gary was able to put the constant strain

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of his army experiences behind him.

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Combat Stress teaches you to think about how to

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turn that switch off.

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And since then I drink moderately.

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I don't have to get drunk when I drink.

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We have a great time,

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my marriage is absolutely brilliant.

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Life's really good.

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I wish that I had been able to tell my father about Combat Stress.

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So far, this charity has helped to give over 100,000

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ex-servicemen and women the tools to deal with their

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mental health conditions and move on with their lives.

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But now there is more need for Combat Stress than ever before.

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Thousands of our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan

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will develop psychological problems at some point in their lives.

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Combat Stress must be able to offer them the same level of help,

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guidance and support that they have always offered.

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With your help, they can.

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To donate, please go to the website...

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If you haven't got internet access, please call...

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And if you can't get through the first time, please keep trying.

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You can also donate £10 by texting...

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Texts cost £10, plus your standard network message charge

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and the whole £10 goes to Combat Stress.

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Full terms and conditions can be found at

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bbc.co.uk/lifeline.

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Telephone calls are free from most landlines.

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Some networks and mobile operators will charge for these calls.

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Or if you'd like to post a donation,

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please make your cheque payable to Combat Stress

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and send it to Freepost, BBC Lifeline Appeal,

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writing Combat Stress on the back of the envelope.

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And if you want the charity to claim Gift Aid on your donation,

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please include an e-mail or postal address,

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so that they can send you a Gift Aid form.

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And thank you.

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Actor Sir Patrick Stewart presents an appeal on behalf of Combat Stress, the leading charity for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological conditions. Patrick's father suffered from PTSD, then known as shell shock, after serving in the Second World War, and he and his family had to live with its devastating consequences.

The film also features first-hand testimony from James, who suffered severe PTSD once he returned from the first Gulf War. At the height of his illness he lost his job, family and home, and developed major problems with drug and alcohol abuse. He describes how Combat Stress helped him piece his life back together.