General reflects on low moments as he encourages soldiers to talk

Alexander Britton, PA

An Army General has spoken of how experiences on tour had left him depressed, drinking in the early hours and having suicidal thoughts.

General Sir Patrick Sanders said it took him a “good chunk of time” to start working through his problems “on the back of a very violent tour”.

The Commander Joint Forces Command was speaking on a video to mark Time to Talk Day, and encouraged his fellow Army members to feel able to speak about their experiences and struggles.

Gen Sanders, who has completed tours in Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, said: “I was depressed, I was low, there were periods of time when I had suicidal thoughts, and it took me a good chunk of time to begin to come back from that on the back of a very violent tour.

“I found myself obsessing about experiences on the tour, dwelling too much on photographs, on video clips, on letters, replaying in my mind what happened.

“So I was drawn back down into the experiences on that tour and the memories from it. But in a way that was dark and obsessive.

“I closed down. I didn’t talk to anybody about it.

“They (the thoughts) would take me into a dark place’, I would try to create opportunities to be on my own.

“I would sit up late at night drinking. And it was when I caught myself at two in the morning with a bottle of wine or whisky next to me I realised that I probably needed help.”

Military Stock
General Sir Patrick Sanders was speaking out in support of the Time To Talk initiative (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The 54-year-old said he wanted to use his experience to help others realise that mental health concerns were “perfectly normal”.

He added: “It doesn’t matter what the trigger is, whether it is the sort of violence that I went through on operations but equally (it could) be something in your personal life and it’s very often the combination of things that come together that create it.

“So it is about normal conversations with people about it. It is about getting the basics right, about making sure you sleep properly, your diet is healthy and probably the most important of all is that you’ve got a really good fitness regime.

“It fundamentally changes your outlook. Then I began to have things to look forward to again. I think it so important, the idea that you’re always looking forward to the next ridgeline, that there’s something to look forward to, that keeps your momentum going.”

Anyone who needs support should call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website.

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