Wives set up helpline for traumatised soldiers

'Garrison Girls' calendar helps fund new mental health service
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Soldiers traumatised by combat in Afghanistan and Iraq have a new confidential telephone line to turn to for help.

Run by colleagues, it will offer an outlet for those fearful about exposure or recrimination if they reveal mental health problems brought about by life at war.

The former Scots Guard Lance Sergeant Alex Webster, 35, and other veterans offer their time free, manning telephone lines and emails alongside a website with anonymous forums for servicemen and women to discuss problems.

The Ministry of Defence says it has facilities to care for serving or ex-soldiers with mental health problems, but many are reluctant to come forward or do not know where to turn.

The project is being funded by a group of soldiers' wives and girlfriends, who posed (tastefully) nude for a "Garrison Girls" calendar which they sell for £10.

All of the volunteers involved in the helpline, PTSD Worldwide, have suffered combat stress after serving in a variety of conflicts from the Falklands to Afghanistan. Alongside the main facility will be a secondary helpline aimed at families and run by wives of veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"Serving soldiers can telephone or email us if they are scared to get help," said Mr Webster yesterday. "They can talk to another squaddie in confidence. We are not trained counsellors but we have been on the ground and we can advise them on where to seek help.

"If they are feeling depressed or have had a crap day, at least they have got someone who can chat and understand."

Garrison Girls provided the start-up costs. Set up by Sarah Bennett Thurston, the group includes wives and girlfriends from all ranks and services. Their 2009 calendar raised £6,000 for the charities Combat Stress and Help for Heroes.

"I really wanted to help," said Ms Bennett Thurston. "I couldn't believe there was no website or forum for people with PTSD. We all know guys going through hell, families going through hell."

Mr Webster, from Dundee, spent 10 years in the Army, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. "When you are in the Army you bury all the health issues because you don't want to appear weak," he said. "But you are definitely aware once you leave. I've suffered from a short temper, anxiety attacks and insomnia. It makes returning to civvie street extremely difficult."

PTSD Worldwide can be reached on 0844 567 9078 or at ptsdhelp@ptsdworldwide.org. Families can call 0844 567 9071 or email ptsdfamily@ptsdworldwide.org. The website, www.ptsdworldwide.org, will be operational within three weeks