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World Mental Health Day 2017

We speak to Rod Eldridge, former officer and Clinical Lead at Walking With The Wounded about the importance of mental health and why looking after yourself needs to be a priority.

Lt Col (Rtd) Rod Eldridge is Walking With The Wounded’s Clinical Lead, supporting the charity’s mental health programme, Head Start. This World Mental Health Day, we spoke to him about mental health: what is it and why is it so important that we all look after it?

What does mental health mean?

Not an easy question to answer… I think it means different things to different people. But mental health is like physical health, both go hand in hand. To be mentally healthy means that you’re able to express yourself and how you feel, how you perceive and process information, how you think and how you interact with others around you in your day to day life.

Why is it so important to look after our mental health?

Again, because it goes hand in hand with physical health. Hopefully like you look after your body, you’ve also got to look after your mental health. If things aren’t right you need to do something about it. If you don’t, things can get worse very quickly and then they become more difficult to manage.

Is it easy to spot when your own mental health is deteriorating?

Not really. People with physical injuries or illness have signs or symptoms which indicate something is wrong - pain or swelling for example – it’s very tangible. With mental health, it’s not so straight forward. It’s usually those around you and who know you well that notice when you are becoming more irritable, moody, withdrawn…maybe having trouble sleeping or difficulty concentrating. It may even just be worrying a bit more about things than usual.

Have you struggled with your own mental health?

Yes I have. I worked in mental health in the military for over 27 years including 8 operational tours, mostly as a mental health nurse. I think that does have an effect on your own mental health over time. Certainly during my transition from the military I became quite low and anxious and I lost a lot of confidence. I’ve had therapy myself but I’m in a much better place now having taken anti-depressants and received therapy. The main aids to my recovery have been an amazingly understanding and supporting wife, family, friends, and colleagues.

What do you do here at Walking With The Wounded?

I have the great pleasure of working here as the Clinical Lead for WWTW’s mental health programme and that’s partly responsible for my recovery and continued well-being. I feel very valued here. I look at all the referrals that come through to the charity and check their suitability for our programme. If referrals aren’t suitable for the programme, we will find alternative support that is appropriate and meaningful. If they are suitable we then provide that support through a national network of accredited private therapists.

Where’s the first place that ex-servicemen and women should go when it comes to seeking mental health support? Even before approaching Walking With The Wounded?

If you are struggling in any way, firstly there are many things that you can do for yourself. You need to accept that something is wrong and take steps to look after yourself – which is often the best way forward. Talking with your friends and family and connecting with the people around you is hugely important too. The key thing is to not do what a lot of veterans tend to which is ‘soldier on’ until they’re broken or in crisis - which is far too late and that makes it more difficult to get the right kind of help for them and get effective support or treatment. So recognise it (poor mental health) in yourself, use the support available to you within your own network, do talk to your GP – they are your first port of call for such help. But as we know there are a wealth of charities and agencies out there, not least the NHS.

What’s your top tip for looking after your mental health?

Having a sense of humour! I think as you get older you grasp what it’s all about. It’s not taking life too seriously and having a bit of a sense of humour. Keep active, connect with people around you, don’t keep it all inside but talk to people – it’s good to talk and have a laugh!