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18 January 2018, 06:43
With Blue Monday behind us and Help for Heroes, (H4H), having just released new research about mental health, Veteran Ryan Lewis from Colchester is hoping that by sharing his experiences he will encourage others to come forward.
The former Sergeant served for just under 15 years in the 7th Parachute Royal Horse Artillery; touring Iraq and Afghanistan. The 33 year old, who was born in Germany but grew up in Aldershot, left in 2014 after being admitted to a psychiatric hospital earlier in 2012.
He said: "In 2004 my regiment moved and I found myself in Colchester. I felt incredibly isolated as I was away from my family and had a young family of my own. Trying to balance my job in the army and my life at home was becoming too much. I also started having panic attacks in 2009 and wasn’t sleeping because of nightmares from what I’d seen in Iraq. In 2012 I tried to commit suicide but thankfully stopped myself. It was then that I got admitted to a psychiatric hospital. After being discharged I went back to work but people just didn’t know to handle me. It was when I left the army that I felt lost more than ever."
Ryan decided to get in contact with Help for Heroes and visited the Recovery Centre near his home in Colchester. After signing up as a Band of Brother he now attends the centre regularly.
"When I first stepped through the doors of Chavasse VC House I didn’t want to mix with anyone. I kept my head down and didn’t want to talk. There was no pressure from anyone though. They just gently let me know that when I was ready they were ready. I started seeing a Psychological Wellbeing Advisor who helped me to see things from a different angle and enabled me to be more proactive when it came to problem solving. I’d had a lot done for me in the army, such as paying bills, so I had to learn how to take responsibility for my own budget."
He continued: "I immediately saw the benefits and it changed my whole outlook on myself. As I grew stronger I started to talk with other veterans and realised that they had been through similar experiences. It was nice to be able to grab a brew and just be really honest about your feelings. I even took park in the Hero Ride in 2015; a fundraising event which saw 100 injured servicemen and women collectively cover 18,000 miles."
Although the road to recovery can be long Ryan has come a remarkable way. After responding to a Facebook advert about extras being needed to play soldiers in a TV programme he has now signed up with an agency and has regular extras work. His first job was with Olivia Coleman in the Night Manager but Ryan has also worked on the Netflix Drama The Royals and the Inspector Morse spin-off Endeavour. More recently he has done films with Will Ferrell and Woody Harellson.
"It’s the hardest thing to make that phone call admitting that you need help. You have a fear of rejection or being judged. But nobody does. There is only acceptance. And plenty of others who are going through a similar situation. You feel like you’re the only person in the world feeling like this but you soon realise that’s not the case."
Family members who are concerned about the mental health of a Veteran close to them can contact Hidden Wounds using the following details:
Tel: 0808 2020 144 (free from UK landlines)