General Sir Patrick Saunders opens up and urges others to seek help with mental health
Updated: Jan 27
There was an article in The Mail Online last week, in which an Army general revealed the problems he faced in relation to his own mental health after returning from a particularly violent military tour in Iraq.
General Sir Patrick Saunders is thought to be the highest ranking officer to openly discuss mental health, and it is hoped that his frankness will encourage others, especially those in the forces, to seek help.
The numbers of those already seeking help for mental and emotional issues stemming from their operational service, has increased significantly in the aftermath of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
It is essential that these people not only have access to psychological support and services, but also that they are given education and insight into the conditions they could be at risk of developing as a result of their experiences in the forces.
I say this because Sir Patrick tells us that he 'doesn't know how to term,' the experience of mental crisis that he experienced. If he'd had sufficient time and evaluation by a knowledgeable psychiatrist he would know the answer and this is especially important when it comes to the question of treatment. A diagnosis is also essential in order to prevent the onset of another episode and to allow suitable intervention if, God forbid, the illness returns in the future.
In the interview Sir Patrick tells us how he would obsess about experiences in Iraq, dwell on photographs, video clips and letters while also constantly replaying what happened in a dark and and obsessive way.
Like so many people who experience trauma or the onset of mental illness, general Saunders began to self-medicate with alcohol. It wasn't until he found himself sitting up at two o'clock in the morning with a bottle of whisky in his hand that he realised he needed help.
I can completely relate to the self-medicating that general Patrick talks about. When depressed and still functioning I would drink endless cups of coffee and smoke cigarettes to try and stay awake and alert. When manic I would drink alcohol to try and get to sleep and to slow me down.
This was all before I became more educated around my condition; I now know that all these 'crutches' have a terrible negative effect on my mental health. I don't smoke or drink alcohol, I've stopped drinking coffee and I try to limit my caffeine intake through other substances like chocolate and energy drinks. These substances are not good for the brain, especially the brain of a person susceptible to a mental health condition. If you are prone to highs and lows like I am, then stimulating and suppressing the mind like this, will, over time, have a calamitous effect on your mental well-being.
This is once again a case of education so that we can all be aware of the pit-falls and try, at all cost, to avoid them.
General Sir Patrick's honest admission comes at a time when promoting education and awareness around the subject of mental health could not be more important. We are still losing far too many people to suicide and every single one of them leaves repercussions and knock-on effects to those left behind.
Last June, SAS medic Staff Sergeant Jamie Ferguson, 36, shot himself after leaving a recording saying, 'I asked for help but no one was listening, they didn't understand.' We must learn from the messages that Jamie and others are leaving in their wake; we need to be understanding, educated and emotionally available to others.
Like I said in the post I wrote about Caroline Flack, we need to be better about picking up on warning signs. If someone says they're struggling and tries to open up about what they are experiencing it is essential that the person sharing their worries feels heard. Sit down with them, let them off load, be supportive, let them know that you're there for them and that they're not alone.
What I would really have loved general Patrick to tell us is how he managed to recover. He mentions exercise and good nutrition which are obviously important but how does that help those that are crippled with depression and unable to open the curtains and get outside? These people need to start by very slowly getting their confidence back.
I know exactly how to do this and when I have a big enough following it is something I will obviously be focusing my efforts on, so please share these posts so that they reach more people!
If you would like to read the article with Sir Patrick I have attached it here for you, it also includes an interesting video interview.
Thanks for reading!
Speak to you soon,