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Posted on Nov 7 2023 by Fiona Bailey

A veteran who served 22 years in the military is urging people to only wear a poppy if they “fully support the Armed Forces Community” and not to wear one because they feel like they should. 

Christopher Perrio-stone, who has been receiving treatment through the mental health charity St Andrew’s Healthcare’s Veteran Service, said: “Remembrance Day can mean many different things to many different people but it’s important we never lose the key message which is all about remembering those who fought for our country.

“Poppies are worn as a show of support for the Armed Forces community but I don’t want people to be forced to wear one. If I see people wearing a poppy, I want to know they have one because they fully support the cause, that means more.”

The 52-year-old, who served in the Royal Airforce Regiment, joined in 1990 and completed tours in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. But, sadly his career came to an end when he started to show signs of being mentally unwell.

He said: “There are lots of positives and negatives of doing the job I did, such as meeting the amazing people that I did and seeing the beautiful locations, but sadly being surrounded by so much death and destruction can eventually take its toll.

“Unknown to me, it takes time for it takes time for symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to start. I was formally diagnosed in early 2018, but by this stage I was struggling to do anything and at the time I didn’t understand why. I was unable to sleep and I was getting upset and aggressive over very small and minor things.

“I became very isolated, I didn’t want to go out at all. I was getting lots of flashbacks, night terrors, and overall I just felt a complete sense of unworthiness and that I no longer had a place in the world.”

Sadly, the feelings Christopher was experiencing led to him trying to take his own life in 2020.

He added: “It was only after I hit crisis point and I, thankfully, survived that I was given the help and support that I needed, which is when I started my treatment with the St Andrew’s Veteran Service via OpCourage, the NHS’ mental health support programme for veterans.

“It was there that I received dedicated, compassionate care from specialist staff, who on more than one occasion  saved my life. If it hadn’t been for the team, I honestly would not still be here and for that I am eternally grateful.”

Christopher is responding well to his treatment, but still has good and bad days.

He said: “The thing with complex PTSD it really does ambush you and it can take you unaware. Even now I sometimes go into a catatonic state – my entire body freezes. Fireworks or loud bangs can be as trigger for me, even someone banging at the front door can sometimes impact me. But the main thing is, I now have the tools that I know I can use to calm me down enough to make me realise what is happening.”

Now Christopher is attempting to give something back, which is why he has now started a new role with St Andrew’s where he is working as a Peer Support Worker, hosting coffee mornings for other veterans.

He said: “I want to be part of a support network for those who feel – just like I did – that there’s no hope for the future. I want to help them break down the trust issues that many veterans often have with people outside of their community and also offer them support and lived experience for those who need it. I am the proof that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

The St Andrew’s Veteran Service is part of the Op COURAGE programme, an NHS mental health specialist service which has been designed to support serving personnel due to leave the military, reservists, veterans and their families. It supports people of any age who have served in any of the armed forces at any time, for any duration.

Op COURAGE can help with common problems like anxiety, depression and substance misuse, as well as more advanced mental health conditions and psychological trauma. It can also help address other issues that may be affecting someone’s wellbeing, such as housing, finances and relationships.

Self-referral to the service can be made, or a family member, friend or GP can contact Op COURAGE on your behalf.

To learn more, click here.