For former infantry soldier James Alder, from Wigan, facing up to the symptoms of mental illness felt like a sign of weakness. Even when he knew he was struggling to cope, he continued with his career in the Army for years until his family urged him to seek help. James, now a student in Winchester, was diagnosed with PTSD in September, 2013 and has been receiving treatment ever since.
James has now has found the support he needs through a number of support agencies and charities, including Help for Heroes. He is urging other veterans to come forward to get the help they need.
He said: “Help for Heroes is just the beginning of the support out there for you. They can signpost you to more specific individual agencies, such as for the treatment of PTSD, and support you generally throughout your recovery.
“At the beginning, I refused to accept help but Help for Heroes gave me the start I needed to feel more confident about getting on with my life in general. Without the Charity, I would not be as far along as I am now. They signposted me to the right people and I always had that support there,” James said.
James, 42, joined the Queen’s Lancashire regiment in 1989, which amalgamated to become the Duke of Lancaster Regiment in 2006. During his career, he served all over the world, including in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. But it was when he returned from Iraq in 2007 that he noticed things were not quite right.
“I just decided to ignore it,” he said. “I was drinking heavily and my family eventually forced me to get help. I was diagnosed with PTSD in September, 2013.
“I went a long time without treatment. I used to think PTSD was just a way out. In the Army, you do not accept weakness and you pretend nothing is wrong but after a number of years, I could not deal with it anymore.”
James threw himself into playing rugby to channel his aggression.
“But the smallest thing would make me remember horrific things I had seen,” he said. “There was only so much I could do to pretend it wasn’t happening. It was affecting every part of my work and my family life- it was huge.
“My wife and children did not know which person they would see from one day to the next. It’s only now I accept that and I am in a position to understand that.”
James was medically discharged from the army in March, 2015. He has completed a number of courses through the Help for Heroes northern Recovery Centre, Phoenix House, in Catterick, North Yorkshire. He said: “When I’m at Phoenix House, the staff always makes me feel so welcome. You never feel isolated. I was able to use one of the private rooms for my treatment every week and that helped me to relax.
“Help for Heroes also funded me with a road bike and words cannot express how I feel about that. I am a keen cyclist and getting out on the road takes away the feelings of suffering and it makes a massive difference.”
James is now working towards a degree in Sports Science at Winchester University, which he started in September, 2015. His family is living in Catterick, North Yorkshire, while he studies. He would like to become a rugby coach and in June will go to South Africa with the Bhubesi Pride Foundation to coach rugby to children.
He said: “It’s hard work at university. I am the eldest by 24 years, which is a bit strange but the course is great. A lot of my time in the Army has been spent instructing and also playing rugby so to become a coach seems a good fit.”
James said it was good to know the support from Help for Heroes will be there for life.
He is a member of Help for Heroes Band of Brothers, which provides help to those with a career limiting/ending injury or illness attributable to service. His wife is a member of Band of Sisters, which is open to the loved ones, who care for those who have sustained career limiting/ending injuries or illness during or attributable to service.
He said: “Help for Heroes has given us so much advice, including helping us find our house in Catterick, where my family is living while I complete my degree. Leaving the Army was a massive transition and Help for Heroes was there to help.”
Mo Usman, Head of Recovery North and based at Phoenix House, said: “Help for Heroes is proud to be supporting James as he rebuilds his life beyond injury.
“We understand that no recovery journey follows the same path which is why it so important that a holistic, individual approach to support is available.
“We are excited to follow James’ progress and are committed to supporting him, and all those who have been injured (physically or mentally) in the line of duty. We are here to provide support to our beneficiaries in order that they can eventually have active, independent and fulfilling lives.”
Any wounded, injured or sick military personnel or veterans who are in need of support from the Help for Heroes’ Phoenix House Recovery Centre in Catterick, can call (01748) 834148.