Stuart Burton served in the First Gulf War and three years in Northern Ireland, but it wasn’t until years later that he was diagnosed with PTSD. When he reached a crisis point last year it was a SSAFA teddy bear that he credits with saving his life.
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Stuart joined 1st Battalion Staffordshire Regiment in 1988 and spent 12 years in the Army but didn’t initially realise what a toll it had taken on him. "I didn’t realise until after I had got married how much I had been affected," says Stuart. "My wife said I was getting aggressive and told me to talk to my friends. I think my problems stem from the Gulf and my first tour of Northern Ireland. It took about 14 years before I asked for help - not that I didn’t have problems before, I just don’t think I could admit it to myself. I was the last one out of 18 of us to seek help."
Stuart was diagnosed with PTSD three years ago and in April 2018 his wife told him he had to move out. “I got home that night and there was a bag outside with my overnight stuff in it,” he said. “For two days I slept in my car thinking it would blow over but then she moved all my things into the shed. I couldn’t see my son, which was devastating.”
A turning point
In the end it was a SSAFA teddy bear that proved to be the turning point for Stuart. “I had bought it for my son from a SSAFA stand at an event. When his mum said I was moving out he put his teddy bear in my case for me. That’s why I thought to call for help. The night before I called I had considered killing myself and I was in a bad way. SSAFA contacted me within two hours of my call and the person who called me back is now my caseworker. SSAFA calling me back gave me enough strength to get through to the next day. And when I went to meet Kathy and Anne at SSAFA I realised somebody cared.”
SSAFA volunteers Kathy Munslow and Anne MacKinnon met with Stuart and helped him to prepare for a meeting with the Staffordshire Council housing team. He said: “By the time I saw Kathy and Anne I was on my knees. I stayed at my friends for the next couple of nights and went to the council on the Monday morning and they got me temporary accommodation from that night. Thanks to Kathy, I later went back to speak to the council and now I have a flat in Stone. It’s in the perfect place for someone who has PTSD and it’s really peaceful.”
Kathy, now Stuart’s SSAFA caseworker, raised funding for all the essentials he needed to make his flat a home for him and his son when he visits. He said: “I was signed off work by the doctor but rather than let me sit around in temporary accommodation Kathy gave me a list of jobs to do to keep me busy. It was all linked to me and the new flat and it kept me occupied and got me out and about, so I wasn’t isolated. I cut myself off from my friends for a while but they’ve all been really supportive.
“SSAFA got me carpets, beds, fridge freezer, washing machine and essentials like cups too. Now I get to have my son every weekend and we go swimming and for bike rides.”
Stuart has also joined a weekly cycling group for veterans set up by Kathy to bring members of the Armed Forces community together. He said: “It’s not so much the cycling, it’s the fact that it gives me another reason to get out of the flat. There are other veterans in the group, SSAFA volunteers and people who just support the Forces.
“Kathy has been absolutely brilliant. When I had all those problems it just threw me down on the floor and that’s when SSAFA came in. SSAFA did an absolutely awesome job. All I wanted when I called SSAFA was some help to get a roof over my head. I was not expecting all the support I have had. It’s been amazing.”
Do you need help or support with mental health issues or the transition to civilian life? Contact Forcesline, SSAFA's free and confidential helpline.