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Special support for veterans in Norfolk
29/03/2016

Veterans from across Norfolk are being invited to drop-in to two new groups which offer specially-tailored help for a wide range of mental health conditions as well as access to a raft of other support services.

Organised by former army guardsman Luke Woodley in conjunction with Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), the groups give veterans the chance to meet, share experiences and access any help they may need.

The first – the veterans peer support clinic – takes place weekly and is open to anyone who would like help and advice with any mental health condition, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression. Ex-servicemen and women who attend will also be able to receive one-to-one support or help with issues such as benefits or housing from other organisations, such as Help for Heroes, the British Legion and Outside the Wire.

The second group has been designed specifically for female veterans, and is open to everyone – whether they have a mental health condition or not. Thought to be the first of its kind in the country, it will be led by a female and will give ex-servicewomen the chance to meet and discuss issues important to them as well as referrals to other sources of support.

At both groups, information will also be available about NSFT’s 16-week Veterans’ Stabilisation Programme (VSP), which has been put together by Luke and Clinical Psychologist Dr Roger Kingerlee and is run in partnership with the Walnut Tree Project. The programme provides help and support to ex-servicemen and women, as well as their families, to help them manage mental health conditions and adjust to civilian life.

“Statistically, veterans are twice as likely to encounter depression and anxiety than their civilian counterparts,” said Luke, who is a Volunteer Veteran Peer Support Worker and founder of the Walnut Tree Project, which supports veterans. “They can experience reoccurring memories or social isolation, and have difficulty forming relationships, emotional problems or anger issues, while some will also self-medicate using drink or drugs.

“They can also be very difficult to reach – they are very self-reliant and are used to being incredibly fit and active with lots of responsibilities – which means they can find it very difficult to ask for help, especially around mental health.

“We knew we had to create something they could identify with and where they would feel safe, which is why we have set up these two groups. We want to give them the opportunity to socialise with other veterans, and will be doing some myth-busting around mental health while offering people the chance to talk one-to-one if they would like to.

“The group will also give people the chance to meet others who will be going on to complete the VSP so that they can begin growing those relationships while avoiding the stress of beginning treatment without knowing what to expect.

“Our aim is to be very proactive, go out and connect with these people, take them by the hand and lead them to a better place.”

Dr Kingerlee, who began working with Luke in 2005, said: “These two new groups offer veterans an important opportunity to get together and share experiences while also finding out more about the variety of help and support which is available. This includes the VSP, which Luke has played a vital role in creating and is making a huge difference by helping ex-servicemen and women, as well as their families, adjust to civilian life.

“We would encourage anyone who has served in the forces, has concerns about their mental health and feels the sessions could benefit them to come along and find out more.”

The veterans peer support clinic takes place every Monday between 9am and 2pm. 

The female veterans group will meet on the first Thursday of every month, starting on 7 April, between 10am and 12pm. Any veterans can attend, and are welcome to bring along young children.

Both groups will be held at Britannia Veterans Centre at HMP Norwich.