Armed Forces Day – Chris’s story

Saturday 25 June marks Armed Forces Day, offering a chance to celebrate the men and women who make up our Armed Forces community: from currently serving troops to Service families, veterans and cadets as well as those who are no longer with us. This year, supported employment provider, Enable, teamed up with veteran’s charity, Walking with the Wounded, to help ex-service men and women with mental health needs to gain employment outside of the forces through the use of Individual Placement and Support (IPS).

A job can be such a crucial factor to someone’s life. To many of us, a job provides us a roof over our head and food to live off, as well as giving us with the freedom to do the things that we enjoy, a job gives us a reason to get up in the morning and gives us a sense of contributing something back to our community. For many armed forces personal, a job can become their whole identity – something that they both dedicate and risk their lives for, where colleagues become family and work bases become home.

Despite general assumption, most veterans leave the forces and continue to live satisfying, happy lives, however there are a minority who aren’t as lucky. Especially those who have to leave within short notice due to medical or criminal reasons. When your job, your home, your family and your identity are suddenly stripped away at once, it can be difficult to cope.

Working on Enable’s veteran project is Employment Officer – Chris. Chris served in the armed forces from the age of 17 for 22 years of his life. One night an altercation happened – resulting in him being charged with assault and meaning that he had to leave the forces at extremely short notice. He was left with just a period of just days – rather than the usual year – to prepare himself for civilian life and therefore was unable to undergo any resettlement process.

Chris said that his friends and family had noticed a change in his behaviour – he had become irrational, angry and closed off – Chris didn’t realise at the time but he was battling with poor mental health that was effecting every aspect of his life. Rapidly, Chris’s marriage fell apart and he found himself homeless, sleeping in a derelict barn and self-medicating. He felt that everyone had turned their back on him and that there was no one to reach out to.

Chris tried to contact the Council to gain housing, telling them that he had nowhere to go, but found that because he had a mortgage he was not entitled to accommodation. He then went to private firms such as sheltered housing and secure accommodation but because he had an army pension of £612 per month, it was expected that he would have to pay full price which was between £500 and £800 a month – something that he could not afford. As that Chris felt more and more isolated from society, his anger become worse.

“You’re being hindered because you served 22 years for your country.  An army pension can hold you back you because it restricts you from claiming any benefits.”

Eventually Chris met his girlfriend and was offered a place to stay at a friend’s house. However, he was still ill and still unaware of the extent of his condition and his own battles that he was fighting every day.

It wasn’t until Chris attempted suicide that he realised he was ill.

The day after, Chris went to the Doctors and was referred to the CMHT where he was able to speak to a lady called Heidi, who told him that he was suffering with PTSD, Anxiety and Depression, explaining that that the memories coming into his head were actually flashbacks. Chris felt that he had not been affected by the more severe sights from his time on tour but realised instead that it was the smaller, simpler things that got to him. Things like a little three year old child’s baseball boot, left on the ground after an attack.

It took Chris 12 to 14 months to admit to himself that he had PTSD and he still felt that he could not speak to his family and friends and faced his problems alone with his depression and anxiety both battling each other.

Chris began working as a chef and made the decision to disclose his illness. This meant that the employer understood what he was going through and why his behaviour was sometimes angry and erratic. When he left that job to become an order picker in a cold storage facility he disclosed again. One day Chris arrived at work feeling like something was not right; he could feel a nagging in the back if his head. A colleague said something to him and he dropped to his knees, crying but laughing at the same time. He didn’t know what was happening or what had caused it. He immediately went to see his therapist who told him that it was a mental breakdown. After this they came to the conclusion that his job was not right for him. He wasn’t meant to be in doors doing repetitive work and the therapist told him that he was destined for something different.

Chris was able to spend some time at Combat Stress, Newport, at the Ex Armed Forces Mental Health Recovery Centre, where there is provision of clinical programmes, delivering timely, effective treatment and welfare support to veterans who suffer from psychological wounds.

Heidi got Chris in touch with Enable where he was referred to his Employment Officer, Adam. Adam helped Chris to discover what his strengths were and what sort of work he would excel in. Enable uses methods of Individual Placement and Support (IPS) to help clients with mental health needs into competitive, sustainable employment. Using IPS means that people are not just placed in any job available but instead are found jobs that suit their needs and interests. IPS brings employment specialists into clinical teams and has been proven to work at a rapid pace. During IPS Employment Officers develop relationships with employers based upon the jobseekers work preferences.

Adam told Chris about a job vacancy available at Enable as an Employment Officer on the Offenders Project. He told Chris he had no doubt that he could do this job and excel at it. Chris started work at Enable and has not looked back since. He began on the Offenders Project and is now working on the Veterans Project – helping people like himself to improve their lives.

When asked what his favourite thing about working at Enable was, Chris responded:

“Giving people hope. They think it’s all tunnel, tunnel, tunnel and I get to show them that there is a light at the end of that tunnel.”

By sharing his story, Chris has been able to inspire jobseekers to believe that they can achieve meaningful employment and they can get their lives back on track. That although illnesses like PTSD, depression and anxiety stay with you forever, you can live with them, rather than letting them rule you.

A job gives us a reason to get up in the morning and gives us a sense of contributing something back to our community. A job can be such a crucial factor to someone’s life and in people like Chris’s case, a job can save a life.

If you are interested in employing a veteran, please call: 01743 276 900 or email: