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Change of career is all in the mind for Darren; With a rising number of soldiers suffering from mental health problems, one soldier has gone from fighting behind enemy lines to addressing the battle behind closed doors. Alison Dayani reports.

Byline: Alison Dayani

orporal Darren Bambridge is no stranger to the effects of intense, violent conflict.

CDuring his ten years in the Intelligence Corps, he has come under enemy fire, insurgent attacks and served in hostile areas of Basra.

He knows how the simple clunk of air conditioning switching off at his doctor's surgery, made him recoil and fear he was coming under enemy attack during rest days back in the UK.

And it is that background that has nudged him towards embarking on an about-turn in his career, knowing he could be just as vital to his servicemen and women colleagues as a mental health nurse to the forces.

"I have seen how mental health can affect people at all levels while on tour," said 36-year-old Corp Bambridge. "We are put in some abnormal situations and this job is all about what effect that can have on the troops.

"My brother is a green beret Commando so telling him I was transferring to be a nurse was something I really had to work up to."

The father-of-three studied at Birmingham City University's Defence School of Health Care Studies, where he not only graduated but won an award for excellence.

He picked up the Wing Commander P.E.H. Thomas Memorial Trophy for mentoring and supporting fellow students at the University's faculty in Edgbaston, which is the only one in the UK to train RAF, Navy and Army health care students.

The soldier, originally from Potterhanworth, Lincoln, now serves in the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps and is preparing to be deployed to northern Germany for his first official job at the mental health unit for the Desert Rats, or 7 Armoured Brigade, at Hohne Garrison for the next three years.

It comes at a time when the forces seem very aware of the gravity of mental health on its troops.

There are currently 15 Defence Service mental health units in the UK, while bases around the world and on frontlines also have mental health nurses on duty.

Combat Stress, the UK's leading military charity specialising in veterans' mental health from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to depression and anxiety disorders, claims that since 2005 the number of ex-service men and women seeking their help has risen by 72 per cent.

But Corporal Bambridge describes how only five per cent of soldier issues are due to PTSD with 'adjustment disorder' and routine stress a more common problem.

"It is a tiny percentage who I treat that have traumatic stress, it's a common misconception," said Corp Bambridge, who served at the South East HQ in Basra.

"More common issues are every day things like stress, bereavement and relationship problems, but there is that extra dimension with the armed forces because they have weapons. It is a notch up because they have guns and are in a hostile environment, so my role is all about making sure they are safe.

"With adjustment disorder, people are dislocated from the familiar. The military lifestyle is very unpredictable, so if there are other stresses going on in life, it is difficult to adjust, both abroad and when they return home.

"When I first arrived in Iraq, a soldier told me we would do 16 to 17 hour days and I thought he was joking, but he wasn't. It was those hours for six months and it is really full on. When you hear a loud bang, everyone hits the deck."

Soldiers now go through pre-deployment before heading off to war zones, when they are warned on signs and symptoms of depression and battle fatigue.

Those returning from conflicts have 36 hours of decompression time in Cyprus.

The Corporal, who was an Acorns Hospice volunteer and part of Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust's assertive team in Bartley Green during his three years in Birmingham, added: "Transferring to become a nurse was a big change, but the Army are very supportive if you want to retrain."

FACTFILE Since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, 9,500 British soldiers have been deployed, while the Iraq war saw 27,000 Army personnel sent to the southern regions in 2003.

A study by King's College London found four per cent of British armed forces suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder but 20 per cent had symptoms of common mental disorders.

Four soldiers killed their wives within six weeks at the Special Forces base of Fort Bragg in North Carolina, America, in 2002. Three of the soldiers had returned from combat in Afghanistan. The wives' support group at the base also said it had seen a steep rise in domestic violence.

Days after watching the coffins of eight soldiers being repatriated from Afghanistan, Iraq war veteran Andrew Watson jumped to his death from a block of flats in London. The 25-year-old private from the Logistics Corp was reported as suffering with PTSD from seeing two friends blown up by landmines in Basra. He had been discharged from the Army for less than three years when he committed suicide.

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Corporal Darren Bambridge serves in the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 12, 2010
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