Just before the lockdown, I started delivering my talk on why it had taken me 30 years to talk about coming to terms with losing my best friend to mental health whilst serving in the British Army. He took his life with his weapon whilst we were talking on the field telephone in 1990. Whilst I look back on what was properly the most traumatic thing a 19 years old can face I now take strength from that time and use it to give strength to deal with the current situation I find myself in whilst dealing with the coronavirus. 

We are now in week 4 of the #lockdown I find myself looking back on those informative years of my life to see how the British Army has equipped me to deal with the lockdown. It was undoubtedly the most difficult time of my life. I believe the British Army has given me the strength needed to deal with the isolation we now find ourselves. Anyone who has served in Northern Ireland overseeing the Maze Prison or carried out a tour with the UN in Cyprus will understand what isolation means, nothing but your thoughts. Eight hours a day sitting in observation towers with your own thoughts is challenging for anyone.

Back in 1990 PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or Nervous Shock was not heard off let alone mental health issues. When my friend, ‘Jock’ Stuart McGee’ took his own life whilst we were talking on the field telephone it was by far the most horrific experience I have ever experienced. Nothing prepares you to deal with this. I was aware that he was thinking of ‘taking his own life’ as he told me over supper after finishing an 8-hour tour that he was thinking of ending his life. Whilst in the mess hall he just blurted out “I put my SLR (Self-Loading Rifle) in my mouth and didn’t have the b*lls to pull the tricker….”. My response was of an initial shock “What! Don’t be silly you have everything to live for” The rest of the evening we sat in silence and I never told anyone what I had been told.

The next night, six hours into our tour of duty I picked up the field telephone and spoke to my friend who was quiet and subdued. Remembering what he had told me the night before I tried to approach the subject again…. With a lump in my throat, I asked him how he was feeling whilst stepping around the subject. He was non-communicative and his responses were limited to grunts.’ I kept going, getting more confident that I was getting through to him saying by saying ‘don’t be stupid… you have everything to live for, think of your mother, sister, and girlfriend’ – only to meet with the most deafening sound of what seemed to be an explosion! My friend had pulled the trigger of his SLR (rifle) whilst I was speaking to him. I felt my legs go from underneath me, whilst shouting NOOOOO. Just then over the field telephone came ‘Contact! Contact! Contact!’ I found myself unable to speak and explain what had gone on. I saw the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) crash out of the building racing to my friend not knowing what had happened or if the Turkish or Greeks had started WWIII. Still stunned and finding it difficult to speak I tried to contact 0 (Commanding Officer – Headquarters) what had gone on. It was 90 minutes until I was released from the tower, I can still remember it as if it was yesterday and it still fills me with tears. My thought at the time was great I can get to my friend. Instead, I was posted on the roadblock and told by the corporal ‘No one is to come in.’ 

It was raining and I wanted to get to see my friend. I was in shock, but I didn’t know it at the time. Standing on the cordon turning civilians away from their home took its toll when a father and his son refused to turn away and started to try and drive through the roadblock. I don’t even remember standing there with my rifle and pointing my weapon at them both saying ‘turn away or I will fire!’ Mental health affects people in different ways. I remember the CO driving up next to me and saying ‘Linton, remember you are part of the British Army. We are all finding it difficult at the moment, lower your weapon and do your duty” 

That day was one of the hardest days of my life and has stuck with me throughout my life and a few years ago I found I had to draw on this experience to get me through a difficult time. When I found myself in the middle of nowhere thinking ‘what was it all for,’ after losing my business and feeling a failure and having no money. I remembered that time and having to speak to Stuart’s mother, sister, and girlfriend and having to tell them what his last words were and how I never wanted anyone to go through that, especially my wife and kids. There is a lot I have to thank the British Army for and that is for helping condition me for the lockdown and isolation. I also have EE and my best friend Michael Murphy to thank for that day. EE for calling improperly saying my bill was now overdue and they needed payment. After I explained the situation, they offered me a six-month line rental free and I could continue using their service. My friend Michael from church for being there and saying I wasn’t useless but a great father, husband, and friend.

After 20 years of ignoring my friend’s suicide due to mental health issues. I have now come to terms with it, and in fact, it has helped me deal with my own low points. I have learned that we cannot just brush things under the carpet or say ‘don’t be stupid.’ As these things do not help or offer encouragement at all. In the same way, we can’t put on social media that we are here to help people if they need support and expect them to get in contact. I can honestly tell you from my own experience if anyone is suffering from any mental health issues the last place they will be is on Facebook or LinkedIn. I can also say there will be a lot of casualties with the outbreak of coronavirus, big and small companies and there will be people who lose their jobs. And for most, it will feel like it’s the end of the world and you are useless, but you are not. I can say you will heal and you will find your way again, some quicker than others, but you will. Time is a great healer and talking is also something that will help.

During the coronavirus, we can still help each other by picking up the phone and speaking to each other. 

Sit in the garden and listen to the birds

Spend an hour a day minimum doing exercise 

Read a book and lose yourself (Thanks to Maz Ifzal)

Buddy up with someone in business not a client, but someone you have something in common with

Socialise with friends and family (hold Zoom quiz nights, charades cheese and wine night)

Play board games (if you are on your own play over zoom, house party or google meet)

Attend online networking events and keep learning and growing.

Finally, take care of yourself we will be out of lockdown soon…