18th of February 2017
Both male and female soldiers have a renowned reputation for being some of the toughest cookies you will ever meet. The British Army is known for being a solid and professional fighting force based on the backbone of its mean and green fighting machines, the soldiers themselves. Although, this does not make them any less human.
On Thursday night, the 16th of February, I spoke to a veteran about his personal experiences with depression whilst serving in the army.
It may or may not be a surprise to you that depression is actually quite common to the men and woman of our armed forces. The army is full of fun, exciting and adrenalizing times, nonetheless, there are those dark and challenging moments that may have repercussions on a soldier’s mental health. Many people suffer from depression in the form of various severities and it is possible to have contrasting views on depression based on their personal experiences.
I would like to introduce you to a fellow veteran who has personally felt very low at certain stages during his time-serving in the British Army.
Sam Rowe, a veteran who served with the 2nd Battalion of The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, from March 2011 to April 2016.
Sam, thank you for willingly sharing your personal experiences with ‘Soldier to Civi’. How did you find your time in the army and what was it that finalised your big decision to leave?
“I was never really meant for the army, my mindset is very different to a traditional soldier. I’m a very emotional guy and I would have never of gotten along with eighty percent of the people outside, but I always found common ground with most. At nineteen years of age and being based in London, I loved it. Being unleashed every weekend into the centre of London was literally amazing for me and all the lads. But when I moved to Cyprus it all changed and then the depression followed. Everyone was leaving and I was miserable, plus my dreams and urge to travel the world were too overwhelming to ignore!”
What was it that made you join the army?
“In all honesty, it was my last choice in life to make something of myself. I was failing at college and I was fed up of education, and Afghan was really heavy in 2010. So when I joined, I guess like any young lad who is patriotic, I wanted to serve my country”
Just like most soldiers who join the army, particularly myself, we can relate to Sam’s initial reasons for joining up. I too failed school and in actual fact, I hated school and at the age of fourteen, I knew that I wanted to join Her Majesties Armed Forces.
I wondered where it all started going dark for Sam.
Can you pinpoint what it was that made you feel down or did you just generally feel depressed?
“A lot of things. We were doing something called ‘Op Shader’ which was basically twelve hours on and twelve hours off, staring at planes on an airfield. We would then conduct guard on camp, on a day on day off rotation. We continued this cycle for months, just stagging on, the bulls**t and boredom were literally unbearable. I believe this was the perfect recipe for it and it wasn’t just me that was feeling like that, there was utter misery around the accommodation. It was like we were all on death row sometimes”
Do you feel like this ruined your army experience?
“It did indeed. When we finally got time to carry out training everyone was too tired and the morale was so low. We did go to Belize which was incredible and it made everyone hungry again but when we got back, the same s**t just got everyone down again”
It seems to me that general morale in the army is currently at a low point, to say the least, and I still haven’t come to a clear conclusion as to why. There appears to be a lot of bad press based currently around the British Armed Forces and the army’s recruitment numbers are significantly low. With there being many possible factors contributing to this, I can’t seem to put my finger on the key element for such low morale.
So how did you cope with the depression, did you talk to anyone?
“I didn’t cope well, I was horrible to my girlfriend and consequently lost her. I never spoke to my family and I felt like I couldn’t go higher with it because I was a good and respected NCO. My reputation meant a lot to me and all the lads looked up to me, I didn’t want to feel weak”
That there is evidence of a definite stigma attached to depression in the armed forces. The last thing you want from the man standing beside you during battle is his lack of confidence in you, which is one reason that I can understand why most soldiers are too afraid to talk about their feelings. I truly believe that talking about it is the best thing you can do, nonetheless, sometimes that may be easier said than done.
This lead to you confirming your decision to leave the army. How did you go about leaving, did you go through any resettlement schemes?
“I had literally no support! I constantly got refused to go on my TA (Territorial Army) brief and they wouldn’t give me any HGV training because I wasn’t priority”
There are resettlement schemes out there for you ladies and gents, but unfortunately, it does come down to you and the research that you carry out. Sam feels exactly how I felt when I left the army, I was unaware of the support that is available to you when leaving the forces.
Did you have a plan for when you were going to leave the army, what was you going to do?
“My plan was to travel for as long as possible and then I would like to have become a paramedic so that I could go away with the Red Cross to Africa and to the Middle East in order to give aid. However, I’ve struggled so much since being at home! With no guidance on how to get a job I had ten pounds to my name and now I live in a conservatory”.
Now you’re on a mission to find your feet and secure a job?
“Exactly! I need to enjoy civilian life, I just want to be happy”
I asked Sam to share a message with us based on his experience of transitioning from soldier to civilian and this is what he had to say:
“Follow your dreams, follow what you truly want in life and go for it! Don’t let anything hold you back! Embrace life for what it truly is and find your true cause in life” – Sam Rowe.
Depression obviously comes in different shapes, sizes and of various severities. This is Sam’s take on his experience with depression in the armed forces. I’ve personally had some low points during my time-serving with the British Army and I can confirm that it is very hard to approach higher ranks because you don’t want them thinking any less of you.
Having said this, there are ways to cope with depression and methods to seeking guidance. I believe that there is a true brotherhood in the armed forces, a bond like no other friendships. The best thing you can do in regards to coping with depression is to talk about it. Therefore, in my opinion, the first major step to overcoming this state of mind is to talk to the band of brothers around you and if you find this hard to do, why not try to drop it into a general conversation with a close mate over a pint at the bar.
Initially opening up about it may help relieve that significant dark cloud hanging over you. By getting a few things off your chest and out into the open air could potentially put you on a positive track or at least your closest friend will now be aware of your mental health.
Nevertheless, I completely understand that this is sometimes easier to say than it is to do. If you can’t bring yourself to talk to anyone in person, then there is always the option of talking to a professional over the phone with confidentiality in place.
If talking about it is really not an option for you, then I would like to suggest that you try writing about it. You could even start a blog just like Sam has in order to get things off your chest and in effect, that is you talking about it.
Here is a link to Sam’s personal blog:
I hope you have enjoyed Sam’s story about his depression in the army and I would like to believe that you have been able to take something away from this week’s blog.
If you are a veteran who has transitioned from soldier to civilian and you are willing to share your story, then please feel free to get in touch with me via email.
Remember, you are not alone – Jamie & featured guest Sam Rowe