“I feel that having a GP who is better informed about veterans and their backgrounds would have been really beneficial. My GP was in an area with a sizeable military and veteran population, yet he was unable to offer me any specialised advice or refer me to more suitable support.”
Richard Barker, 64, joined the Amy at 15 and served as a Regular for 22 years, completing tours in Northern Ireland, the Falklands and Iraq. In 1998 he left the Regulars, securing a civilian job and taking up a position in the Reserves. When he finally bowed out of the Reserves in 2018 after a combined 42 years of Service, he began to struggle with a lack of purpose and direction in his life.
“When I left the Regulars after 22 years, I took a civilian job in the learning and development team of a large insurance firm. It didn’t give me the same level of satisfaction as my Army career, but I had joined the Reserves, which took up some of my time at weekends and involved an annual two-week training camp. This continued connection to military life kept me going.
“But when I left the Reserves, the following year I began to experience some issues. My frustrations with my civilian job really came to the fore and it would play a lot on my mind. I would wake up throughout the night feeling very troubled by it all. I’d think about going to see my doctor, but when morning came, I’d tell myself to get a grip. Eventually I asked my wife to make me an appointment as I knew that would force me to go.
“I had registered with my GP when I left the Regulars, and he was aware of my Military background. When I went to see him, he signed me off work for a while, but other than that I didn’t receive a great deal of direction or support. It was only when confiding in a colleague and fellow veteran that I was pointed towards Combat Stress.
“This proved to be a huge help. I saw an occupational therapist, I attended group therapy sessions and I was registered for a residential programme at Hollybush House. I learned techniques to manage my feelings which I still find very helpful today. Veterans are generally meticulous in their approach to things, and our goal is always to get a task completed as efficiently as possible. In the military there is a concept called “The Three Ms” – Mission, Mates, Myself, in that order. Combat Stress taught me to reverse this. In civilian life we need to learn to take care of ourselves first so that we can look after others and move forward with tasks effectively. They reinforced the importance of a healthy balance between productivity, leisure and self-care.
“It was through this focus that I found the Veterans Curling Club at Active Stirling. This has given me the opportunity to do something I really enjoy in the company of people with similar experiences and outlooks to myself. It also acted as a gateway to other peer support groups that have helped me re-establish my connection to the military, and having retired from my civilian job, I’m doing much better.
“Looking back on everything, there are a few things I think could have been handled differently that might have resulted in a more positive experience for me.
“The first is more about better preparation and support when it comes to civilian employment. Finding a job was a total unknown to me, and while there was a resettlement programme in my final two years of Service, there was pressure from my superiors to carry out other duties instead of attending relevant sessions and appointments. Of course, things may have changed now, but not having a job I found rewarding was a large contributor to my mental health issues.
“In terms of healthcare, I feel that having a GP who is better informed about veterans and their backgrounds would have been really beneficial. My GP was in an area with a sizeable military and veteran population, yet he was unable to offer me any specialised advice or refer me to more suitable support. I now know of all the support out there, but it wasn’t readily available to me when it should have been. I also think we need to do more to address the stigma around mental health in the military, so that those who need help aren’t afraid to ask for it.
“Finally, I think there needs to be more focus on support for Reservists. It’s not the same for everyone but I found leaving the Reserves more difficult than leaving the Regulars. People assume that because they’ve been living in the civilian world, Reservists don’t need the same transition support as Regulars, and they aren’t encouraged to seek out support in the same way.
“I still have some days that are better than others, but I am so grateful for the outlet that the Veterans Curling Club and other organisations have given me. With better systems and procedures in place, I hope we can reach a stage where all veterans are able to access appropriate care and support quickly and easily.”