Around 4% of British military veterans are living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Psychological therapy with a focus on the traumatic event is the treatment of choice for PTSD and can be very helpful but, unfortunately, resistance to treatment is high.
There is an urgent need to identify effective treatments for military veterans who do not respond to the treatments that are currently available.
I’m a research psychologist, based at the National Centre for Mental Health (NCMH), and I’m currently working on new research project called Modular Motion-assisted Memory Desensitisation and Reconsolidation or 3MDR.
It’s an innovative treatment, based on the principles of existing treatments which focus on trauma, set in a novel context. 3MDR involves the patient walking on a treadmill whilst interacting with a series of images, that they’ve chosen, displayed on a large screen.
It aims to help patients learn how to move through their avoidance by, literally, approaching their traumatic memories.
Military veteran John Skipper has become a passionate public spokesperson and research champion of the PTSD research taking place at Cardiff University after completing the 3MDR trial.
He agreed to share his experiences with me of his time in the army, his diagnosis of PTSD and his thoughts on taking part in our research:
Tell me about your time in the military:
I served in the army for 35 years, 35 days and 12 hours – following a family tradition of army service over two world wars.
My grandfather served from 1912-19. He was decorated for bravery at the Somme. My father served in World War II and was a veteran of Arnhem. There wasn’t a mention of PTSD then, but in retrospect I think I now recognise the signs in them.
My first tour in Cyprus saw me dodging bullets in Famagusta when the Turks invaded in 1974.
In 1982 I was involved in the Falklands conflict. There then followed an aggregation of over five years of service in Northern Ireland. This was a dirty war in every sense. There were no winners. But teamwork, deep friendships and comradery are powerful components that bind the military together. It helps sustain you when things are bad.
Significantly, the loss of this unique ‘family’ was to hit me like a bereavement when I left the army in 2006.
I can honestly say that if I had the chance to live my life again I would still join the army.
Fellowship, teamwork and wonderful friendships, often forged during adversity and hard times. It’s unique, it’s a wonderful experience that few in civilian life will ever know, nor indeed, truly understand. But the reason for writing this account is to share one very dark moment in my life – the conflict in Bosnia.
You will forgive me if I don’t go into too much detail today – the feelings are still raw.
Imprinted in my mind was one particular week in July of 1995 – the genocide at Srebrenica where the Bosnian Serb Army murdered over 9,500 men and boys. I remember my dark anger and frustration that intelligence reports in the weeks leading up to that could not prevent so many deaths. NATO could do nothing.
For me, personally, it was huge, it was vast, beyond my control. At least in Northern Ireland there was some sense of being in control. Bosnia? I felt responsible and complicit. I was powerless and inadequate.
Something inside me tore after that week. I sensed it – I was different somehow.