The mother of a Black Watch soldier who committed suicide just seven months after leaving the army has backed the #22PushUpChallenge campaign to help raise £1 million for the veteran’s mental health charity Combat Stress.
June Black, from Blairgowrie, whose 22-year-old son Aaron took his own life in December 2011, told The Courier that “anything that raises awareness and raises funds” for research into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a “good thing”.
Shortly before Christmas that year, and haunted by memories of Afghanistan and the deaths of soldier friends, Aaron surrounded himself with treasured photographs, his army medals and a crucifix and sent a last ‘Goodbye’ text message to his mum June before taking his own life.
In the army his commander praised him for his courage and well controlled aggression.
But in civilian life he started to lose that control.
June previously called for a fatal accident inquiry into her son’s death and claimed she had documentary evidence that there was a “systemic failure” in Aaron’s case, and that he asked for help days before exiting the army and didn’t get it.
However after raising her son’s death with the Government, she received a letter from Mark Francois, the then Minister of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, stating that Aaron was “not classified as a vulnerable service leaver and no steps were taken to formally transfer his care.” His case was formally closed by the authorities in April 2015.
June, who has suffered bouts of illness following her son’s death, said: “A few years ago no one really talked about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The army authorities would say that soldiers are not all damaged.
“But awareness of PTSD and how it does affect many people is growing big style. I think the fact the #22PushUpChallenge is not just being done for fun but also by veterans to get the serious message across says it all.”
June admits she will “never know what was going on in Aaron’s head” when he committed suicide, and admits she “still gets both sad and at times angry” about the consequences her son left behind. She is also angry that Crown Counsel decided his lack of followup was not a contributory factor in his suicide.
However, it continues to “sadden” her when she reads about others taking a similar way out, in all walks of life, and backs further research and counselling.
The #22PushUpChallenge was started in the USA by veterans shocked at a US government report which revealed an estimated 22 US military veterans commit suicide every day linked with PTSD. It aims to create awareness of mental health issues among veterans, and participation in the UK is just as important to support Britain’s ex-servicemen and women.
Since Combat Stress started supporting the campaign last month, more than £80,000 has been donated to the organisation, the UK’s leading mental health charity for ex-servicemen and women.
Last year the charity saw a 6% increase in referrals, and a 28% increase the year before that.
With growing demand for its specialist clinical treatment, Combat Stress urgently needs to raise more money to ensure every veteran seeking help receives the best support possible.
Post-Traumatic Stress can vary enormously from explosive anger, depression and alcohol abuse to flashbacks where the sufferer is catapulted back to feel as if they are back in the war situation.
People can get involved in the #22PushUpChallenge by doing 22 push ups – full, half or even air push ups – and donating £5 to Combat Stress by texting PTSD22 to 7004.
If people would like to share a video on social media of them taking part in the challenge, they can use the hashtag #22PushUpChallenge.