Rebuilding the Lives of Our Soldiers

Rebuilding the Lives of Our Soldiers

By Samantha Ibrahim

No wounds upon my body,

No scars that you can find,

Just hurt from wars fought long ago

Implanted in my mind.”

These powerful words sum up, so succinctly, what many among us have to bear each day.

Every year the lives of military personnel are torn apart by the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - a condition brought on by the harrowing experiences of war and combat.

So when this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day came around on 10th September, my thoughts turned to the thousands of servicemen and women who resort to suicide as a result of PTSD.

After reading a recent blog about PTSD charity Surf Action for ex-servicemen and women (written by Spencers Solicitors Director John Spencer), I realised that PTSD sufferers can rebuild their lives with the right help and support.

The piece revealed how former serviceman Rich Emerson, had his life turned upside down when the government and NHS failed to properly support his condition.

But when he discovered surfing, the new energy and direction it gave him helped him get his life back on track.  And now he’s put everything into setting up Surf Action - an organisation that helps more veterans to overcome PTSD in the same way.

It just seems to me that if a programme like this was available for all of our veterans, we’d be hearing far more positive stories of recovery.

Hope for those with PTSD

There are many varied and very effective ways people have found to cope with PTSD, some less 'traditional' than others.  While there are many former troops who feel properly supported by the government and NHS, it’s at least somewhat comforting to know there are dedicated individuals like Rich Emerson are out there - who commit their entire lives to aiding the recovery of sufferers.

Alongside this we hear plenty of heart-warming success stories that suggest alternative therapies can help sufferers discover a new sense of purpose and energy, which they can use to rebuild their lives.

From sport therapy to writing, it seems there are many ways to handle PTSD and return to living a normal healthy life.

Trauma-sensitive yoga

Take yoga for instance.          

David Emerson, a US veteran of no relation to Rich, has been using it for the last ten years to help fellow veterans deal with psychological trauma. Since then more and more yoga centres have classes specifically for ex-servicemen.

It works because it’s calming and gives participants something to focus on. It helps people to ‘reclaim their body and regain control’ - giving them a restored sense of personal power that is essential to the healing process.

“Preliminary military studies have found that the calming effect of yoga can assist PTSD patients in dealing with the hyper vigilance, flashbacks, depression and anxiety common to the condition. For veterans with traumatic amputations, yoga can help strengthen muscles and increase flexibility.”
- David Emerson, Co-Author of Overcoming Trauma through Yoga

Trauma-sensitive yoga concentrates on breathing, moving, strengthening, stretching and resting.  Being able to control all of these things can only help in times of panic and anxiety. 

Yoga, along with other meditative exercises such as Reiki and Tai Chi are being used more and more to help servicemen suffering from PTSD in the US.

To me all of this suggests that we should be following suit in the UK - why do we not actively look to provide this opportunity (or similar opportunities) to our veterans?


Other veterans use writing as an outlet for what they’re going through. The lines at the start of this blog were written by an ex-serviceman who remains unknown, he continues:

No outward signs of injury,

No tell-tale signs of pain,

Only flashbacks and the nightmares

Time and Time again.

Writing helps break the cycle, and untangle the cobwebs trapped in the mind.  Talking about war is difficult - writing, therefore, gives veterans a voice where they can express how they feel through poetry, autobiographies and prose.

He ends his poem:

PTSD is a state of mind, which leaves our minds in a state.

An Iraq war veteran recently expressed in Psychology Today exactly why writing was such a powerful healing mechanism for him. 

Writing has given me power over the conflict that is now inside me every day. Because I write, people can read what military go through long after the media and everyone forgets.

Another Iraqi war veteran Brian Turner has gone on to prove ex-servicemen can even become extremely popular poets. His collection Here, Bullet   is one of the most powerful books about America’s War on Terror to date.

I believe writing, in any form, can be one of many ways for our ex-servicemen to express how they feel and deal with their traumatic experiences.

If something as beautifully simple as writing can help save a life, even if it’s just one, then we should be looking to encourage this kind of therapy at least on a national scale.

Yet we currently offer very little in the way of psychological support for returning troops.  At the moment we’re failing to keep our soldiers safe - BBC’s Panorama revealed that in 2012 more UK soldiers and veterans lost their lives to suicide than on active duty. Clearly, more needs to be done to help UK charities like Surf Action save our soldiers.

Not talking about it does not mean that it does not exist and it will not make it go away. 

They’ve fought for our country; it is time our country fought for them.

What do you think? Do you know of any more recovery methods? Please share your thoughts and insight in the comments below.

About the Author

Samantha Ibrahim is a Chartered Legal Executive at Spencers Solicitors with over 14 years’ experience in personal injury law.  Samantha has dealt with a wide variety of case types including acting for victims of sexual, physical and psychological abuse.

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