A former rifleman diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Tom Fox is now using his personal experience to help others. With the support of SSAFA, Tom has retrained in Mental Health First Aid and set up his own online business, aiming to destigmatise mental ill health and encourage early diagnosis.
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Tom, a father of two from Coulsden in Surrey, joined up in 1990 and served nine years with the Royal Green Jackets. An anti-tank and battlefield engineering specialist, Tom completed two tours of Northern Ireland and also served in Bosnia, Belize, Cyprus and Canada. He joined the Territorial Army in 2000 and in 2002 took up a contract with the US Department of Defense, providing close protection in Iraq.
On his return to the UK in 2006, Tom carved out a career in finance and IT. "I went from a high-stress, high-activity environment into another high-stress, very target-driven industry," says Tom. "You are putting pressure on yourself to achieve all the time. Over time, your coping strategies just gradually collapse.
"I was ill and didn’t realise it and it gradually got worse and worse. I had a suspected heart attack, I suffered memory loss, lack of sleep, hyper-vigilance, all the classic symptoms. I found I couldn’t stand up in front of people at work, I dreaded going on the Tube, I stopped talking to my friends and gradually became a bit of a recluse."
Tom was referred to Combat Stress by the NHS and ultimately diagnosed with PTSD, but admits he found the news hard to take.
"When you first realise you are actually ill it knocks you for six. You almost get worse before you get better and you have to find your own way back from that. It’s different for different people. For me, it was realising that going back into the environment I was working in before could end up killing me. Bu then I thought, what on earth am I going to do now? I have a family to think about."
Tom wanted to turn his own experience into a positive and decided to take a qualification in Mental Health First Aid. He approached SSAFA for financial help to go on the course and as result the Divisional Secretary of SSAFA’s Caterham & Tandridge Division was able to secure grants totalling £3,000 from SSAFA, the Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes.
Having now completed his qualification in Mental Health First Aid, Tom has set up a website, Thoughtify.co.uk, to provide MHFA training to the business community. He says: "I know how debilitating mental illness can be. It ruined my career and changed my life. The really annoying thing is, I know now that with a little bit of prior education about mental health, either I or a colleague at work could have easily spotted the signs that I was unwell, and I could have got the right support to manage my illness at a much earlier stage. If that had happened I would never have got to the point where going to work became an impossibility.
“I think it’s important that businesses work to end the stigma associated with mental ill health and start to create a culture of openness and acceptance, and that is why I formed Thoughtify.
“SSAFA were absolutely key to me getting the business off the ground. People don’t realise how important SSAFA are in the process. My SSAFA caseworker Paul came to see me in my home and he approached the different charities on my behalf.”