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Veteran lost marriage, home and job due to mental illness

Cumbrian Paul Metcalfe battled with psychological wounds for ten years before seeking help
Paul Metcalfe

As a new survey, commissioned by Help for Heroes, reveals that Armed Forces veterans are delaying asking for help with their mental health for almost four years, former RAF firefighter Paul Metcalfe reveals it took him much longer.

Diagnosed ten years ago with depression, Paul hit rock bottom before being rescued by his sister Sarah who brought him back to live with her in his native Cumbria.

“Everything just went wrong. I lost my marriage: I lost my job; I lost my house, and I ended up living in my car!” admitted the 54-year-old.

“I couldn’t see any future. I just thought this is me – I’m going to be here for the rest of my life: living in my car, washing in the canal. There seemed no light at the end of the tunnel.”

In 2016, Paul was diagnosed with several mental health disorders, including complex PTSD, related to the very first aircraft crash that he had attended in which the pilot was killed.

His quality of life began improving 18 months ago following a chance meeting, at a military vehicle show, with another veteran who was being supported by Help for Heroes and recommended the Charity to Paul. Again, Sarah stepped in and persuaded him to make contact.

“Since then, I have just come along from strength to strength,” he says.

Paul Metcalfe, training in 1982

As well as receiving psychological support from staff at Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Phoenix House, in Catterick, North Yorkshire, Paul has embraced every opportunity that has come his way – from entering a baking competition hosted by former Great British Bake Off contestant Sandy Docherty, to taking part in a Highland Games, where he met HRH Prince Charles, and walking the Coast to Coast with a group of fellow wounded veterans.

He now has his own flat in Penrith and is in training to take part in his first weightlifting competition.

And, having realised how much his lifelong hobby of model-making helps his wellbeing, he has set up a monthly modelling club at Phoenix House.

“My grandfather was really into aeroplanes and I suppose I got the bug from there. It’s something that I love and it gets me out of bad thoughts and into really good, positive ones,” he explained.

“I have always wanted to help others and I realised that, if I could do that through modelling, it would be fantastic. Since then, a lot of people have said that making models does help them because when they are concentrating on that, they are not thinking about anything else.”

As a child, growing up in Windermere, Paul had two loves – aeroplanes and fire engines. His father was a fireman and Paul was determined to combine his interests and become a fireman in the RAF. Once trained, he spent time in Canada, the Falkland, Cyprus and in the first Iraq war.

Damage to his back in a car accident led to Paul being medically discharged but it was the loss of his dream job that had the bigger impact.

“It took me ten years to reach out for some help because I didn’t accept that I had a problem,” he admitted.

The Help for Heroes survey revealed other reasons for a veteran’s reluctance to seek support – 28pc because they don’t believe that civilian services will understand or support them, and a fear of being treated differently by friends (25%) and family (19%).

Iconic buildings across the UK, including the Tower of London, are lighting up on the evening of Blue Monday January 21st, (known as the most depressing day of the year) to support veterans by helping fight the stigma holding them back.

Karen Mead, Head of Psychological Wellbeing at Help for Heroes said Paul’s story was the reality for thousands of military personnel.

“Veterans are not accessing mental health support when they need it and we believe this needs to change. Our campaign is asking the nation to call time of stigma and to let those who have served their country know it’s ok to ask for help,” she said.

“We need the communities support to help us fund vital programmes to ensure we can continue to be there and respond quickly when Veterans do take that big step and ask for support.

“With every pound donated, every retweet, like or share on social media, the public can help lessen the stigma and actively cut the time veterans are taking to seek help for psychological wounds.

Help end mental health stigma at CutTheClock.com

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