‘When you hear an explosion go off you pray you still have your legs’

Ben Elliott served in Afghanistan in 2009.
Ben Elliott served in Afghanistan in 2009.

Ben Elliott is a former soldier who served in Afghanistan.

The 28-year-old has suffered with anxiety and depression since returning to civilian life.

Ben Elliott.

Ben Elliott.

He was recently talked down from a bridge in Chesterfield by a taxi driver and the police.

The dad-of-three lives in Calow with his partner and works as a quality auditor for a gas and electricity company.

On the 25th anniversary of World Mental Health Day he tells the Derbyshire Times of his struggles and why he is desperate to find the right help for himself and his fellow servicemen and women...

In 2009 I was deployed to Afghanistan for a six-month tour.

Ben Elliott.

Ben Elliott.

There are things that I saw and heard on this tour that I will never tell people. Things that will never leave my mouth.

When I went out there I made some friends. I lost a couple of them on that tour to explosions and shootings.

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There were two operations in place while we were out there - Operation Herrick 10 and Operation Panther’s Claw - designed to take over enemy occupied areas and push them in an opposite direction through Helmand province.

When you hear an explosion go off, you pray to God that it was not someone you know and that it was not yourself. You pray that when you look down you still have your legs.

When you get voices over your headset saying ‘man down’ you know that whatever has happened has probably taken someone’s life, and in some cases it was the life of a friend.

There are people who go to Afghanistan and they never have to pull a trigger but when you are on the front line like I was you get the full force of it.

You have got to make sure you are switched on at all times but in the heat of Helmand province it is very hard to concentrate. It is quite a daunting situation to stand in, never mind to fight in.

When I joined the Army they always said the effects would creep back up on you later in life.

I never really thought about it but in recent years it has really started to get its hands around my neck. It gets hold of you. They call it survivor guilt as lives were lost that were of higher value than mine.

We were mentally prepared to take a bullet or fragment. You knew what you were signing up for but at the same time you had no idea how much losing your friends could effect you until years later when you return to civilian life which I’m struggling with to this day.

I now work as a quality auditor for a big gas and electricity company. They support me and they understand what I’ve been through, my line manager in particular has been supportive since we met.

Although a pair of ears is very good sometimes you do not get the response from someone who has been out there.

It is very hard for me to adapt to everyday life because people are moaning about things that are not real problems. People moan they are in their overdraft six days after receiving their monthly pay - which cannot be a nice situation to be in - but that’s not a real problem in comparison to the problems I’ve encountered as a infantry soldier. A real problem is being 60 miles south of where you are supposed to be with low ammunition, low food supplies and not being able to get a stretcher out when one of your mates has been shot in the back. That’s a problem to me.

I tried to rejoin the Army reserves last December but I failed the application process down to my past of PTSD from previous service. It was a tough knock to take but I was speaking to a sergeant there and we both spoke about everything we had been through. One thing I have learned is the best people to speak to are those that have been in the same situation. The people that have been out there are the people that can help.

The help is out there but I do not rate it at all. The government has to offer help no matter how good or effective it is.

I was turned away by Combat Stress because they said the help they could give me might not work and it could make me worse. I have had lots of help from psychiatrists and therapists over the years.

I now go to Pathfinders in Chesterfield. I go and see people there and there are times when I come out and say I am not going back but I do.

These people are really starting to make a difference. They are talking to me about everyday life. They are well trained. It is only early days but they have been brilliant.

I have walked out of there before and shouted at the woman ‘is this going to work’ and they are so confident that it will.

What I am trying to say is that help is out there but it is about who is offering it and that more can be done.

Like I said, there are people who never have to pull a trigger while they are out there and there are soldiers who fire everything they have. There are different types of people who need different help to others.

What I will say is this. When I finally get the help and I know where it is and what it is I promise that everyone who needs it will get it. I do not care how much it costs me. I know how many people are suffering.

I will do everything in my power to get it. I need to find it soon and when I do I will make sure everybody knows where it is who suffers the same and highlight the help that is effective.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Call Chesterfield Samaritans on: 0845 790 9090

Call the Chesterfield Central Neighbourhood team on:

0300 123 3372

Call Combat Stress on:

0800 138 1619