When you think of a soldier being wounded, what first springs to mind? A physical injury, scars from the battlefield, an amputation? While these may be more immediately apparent, what many of us likely don't realise is that a significant number of the Armed Forces community are struggling with a burdening wound that's less obvious to the eye - mental illness.
It's high time that the silence ends and that this problem gains the recognition that it deserves, something which Contact - a pioneering collaboration between charities and state organisations - seeks to achieve. Contact is one of the core partners in Heads Together, a new mental health campaign led by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry which launched Monday 16 May to tie in with Mental Health Awareness Week.
"The main issue with a lot of mental health issues is that there is a stigma attached, because it is hidden; it's a hidden wound," said Mark Taylor, an Ex-Serviceman. "You could have a mental health issue and walk down the street and no one would know. We're quite reserved as a nation; many people just shut down and push it to the back of the mind, feeling they have to be macho, man up and just deal with it themselves."
Mark spent 25 years serving in the British Army until he was medically discharged back in 2013 after struggling with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, which he was diagnosed with in 2005. His last tour was in Iraq, in which he endured 6 weeks of constant fighting.
"I was diagnosed quickly, but the stigma involved had a massive impact on me and my family, leading to divorce, and meant that my career was potentially stifled," Mark said. "It's like a massive rock being dropped in a pond, and it causes ripples. If there is no help, the ripples will go on and on."
But Contact wants to make sure that support is available across the spectrum, from common mental health challenges to more complex issues like Post-Traumatic Stress. They are encouraging Servicemen and women, Ex-Service Personnel and their families to seek help, improving care management and service provision, and increasing public knowledge of the support available and how to access it. This is where Heads Together also comes in, helping to raise awareness and bring together a number of charities and organisations working towards a common goal: ending the stigma surrounding mental health. Having members of the Royal Family involved also "adds gravitas" to the situation, said Mark.
"The Contact group fully understands that in the near future, there is going to be a large number of military personnel suffering from mental injury," Mark added. "We've got to be proactive where we have been reactive in the past.
"I want people to put their hands up and start seeing that mental illness is like every other physical injury, that there is no separation between the two. You need help, but more importantly you deserve help. Don't be ashamed of something that is not your fault."
Contact is a collaboration of the NHS, the MoD, Help for Heroes, Combat Stress, Walking With The Wounded, Big White Wall, The Royal British Legion, Cobseo, Kings College London, KCMHR and UK Psychological Trauma Society, working to improve mental health support to the Armed Forces community.