Belfast Telegraph

How IRA bomb led to new Army trauma training

Initiative: Tim Hodgetts
Initiative: Tim Hodgetts
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

The architect of new mental health courses to be rolled out by the Army has revealed how an IRA bomb that killed two comrades almost 30 years ago inspired him to help others deal with trauma.

All new recruits will complete the resilience courses designed by Brigadier Tim Hodgetts as part of their basic training from next year.

The Army's senior health adviser has also developed tailored sessions for senior commanders following his own traumatic experiences here and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Resilience is finite," he said.

"You cannot be exposed to serial traumatic events and remain untouched by them."

It was a lesson Brig Hodgett learned in November 1991 when a bomb exploded outside a military wing of Musgrave Park Hospital, claiming the lives of two soldiers.

The attack, which injured 11 other people including a five-year-old girl and a baby of four months, helped him appreciate the importance of protecting mental health.

"How do you deal with seriously injured children when you only have equipment for adults?" Brig Hodgett's asked during an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

"The bomb changed my life trajectory. It has been a professional growth opportunity."

The courses, which provide psychological skills training based on lessons from elite sport and combat experience from the British armed forces and close allies, provide specific techniques to help reduce stress.

They are also designed to build self-confidence and equip soldiers with the skills to regulate their emotions to handle the strain of combat and everyday life.

Speaking at the official launch at the Army headquarters in Andover, Hampshire, Brig Hodgett said soldiers must be aware of what is normal so they can recognise what is abnormal.

"Having negative emotions doesn't mean you've got poor mental health, but there is a transition point at which symptoms are abnormal and you need to seek help," the veteran of four tours of Afghanistan and three of Iraq said.

He made the remarks just months after a report by the Defence Select Committee said the NHS and Ministry of Defence should create a specialist mental health centre.

It also warned that some serving personnel, veterans and their families are being "completely failed" by the system.

The report found that many servicemen and women do not seek help because of a stigma surrounding mental health problems and the fear of damaging their careers.

Lieutenant General Ivan Jones, the Commander Field Army, said he accepts such a stigma still exists in the forces.

"If we can show by example (mental health) is important, we remove the stigma; and there is a stigma," he said.

"We need to demonstrate by deed, not word, not autocratic direction (that this matters).

"If you want to change something culturally, you can't just stand in front of people and tell them to do it. Good leaders demonstrate by doing."

Earlier this year the Government committee also found that only 0.007% of the NHS annual budget of over £150bn was spent on mental health services specifically for veterans.

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