Comic Relief: War veteran Peter Doolan overcomes PTSD
The sight of a mass grave filled with hundreds of bodies from families massacred in the war in Kosovo is just one of the many images of war that haunts the memory of Peter Doolan, a 30-year-old war veteran from Norfolk.
He has seen friends die in combat, small children killed and women destroyed by rape.
The atrocities have caused him to suffer night terrors, flashbacks and have led to the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The condition has meant he has struggled to find work since returning home to Dereham, but the veteran is now slowly starting to rebuild his life with help from Combat Stress, a charity funded by Comic Relief.
Mr Doolan served in the Royal Irish Regiment from 1999 to 2005. He was posted to Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland and twice to Iraq.
From his first tour, in Kosovo aged 17, he remembers one particularly distressing incident.
"We found an old woman crying next to her daughter who had just shot herself in the head. That really screwed me up.'Screaming in my sleep'
"Another time we saw an old woman who had been raped and murdered and her body shoved behind a rubbish chute."
Mr Doolan left the army in 2005. He knew of a turmoil building inside him, but tried to hide it from his friends and family.
War veteran support
- Combat Stress is currently treating and supporting 453 veterans in the east of England, including 63 in Norfolk
- Between 1 April 2010 and 31 March 2011 Combat Stress received 1,443 referrals, a 10% increase on the previous year
- Money from Comic Relief is helping Combat Stress to raise awareness among veterans and their families of the issue of mental ill health and the importance to seek help as soon as possible
"When I got back I couldn't talk to or face Rachel [his wife]. I slept on the sofa for two years. I was waking up screaming in my sleep," he said.
"I tried to hide it. I thought people would think I was weak, but I was relieved in the end when it finally all came out."
Many veterans experience mental health problems after returning from duty, but often hesitate to seek treatment because of the perceived stigma.
A Combat Stress survey of armed forces veterans with mental health problems has shown 81% were ashamed or embarrassed about their problems, with one in three people admitting the fear of stigma being attached to their actions prevented them from telling their families.
In 2006 Mr Doolan reached breaking point and spent 10 months of his life sleeping at night under the dining room table.
He threw away his medals, including the Military Cross awarded for saving a wounded colleague from a vehicle while under attack in Iraq.
Eventually, admitting to himself and his family that he had a problem, Mr Doolan sought help.
His doctor put him in contact with Combat Stress and having received medical treatment, counselling and support, Mr Doolan is back on his feet.
"Combat Stress basically saved our lives. Their practical and medical help took the pressure off us so I could get myself together. I can't thank them enough."
Mr Doolan will finish a business management degree at the University of East Anglia in May. But as he tries to look to the future, the stigma connected to PTSD continues to affect his life.
He has applied for 18 jobs, had five interviews and done well in psychometric tests.
But he knows from his classmates that he has scored higher than them in the tests, but when it comes to the final interview he has to declare his condition - PTSD - and he does not get the job.
"It is demoralising. I would be willing to work as an intern for free. I am quite motivated. I am quite capable of working. I have got through the degree with a 98% attendance. It is a stigma."
Comic Relief is funding Combat Stress to deliver an anti-stigma campaign with the aim of encouraging veterans with mental health problems and their families to seek help sooner.
Thousands of people in Norfolk are raising money for Sport Relief, a Comic Relief initiative, this weekend by running Sport Relief miles in Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Cromer and Wymondham.