'What other walk of life loses one person every seven days?’: Why this man started recording unreported veteran suicides

"When a soldier takes his life, it's like passing it onto the family. Pass the parcel - the family live with it, and so on…," explains Jim Wilde.

The ex-Army man spoke to ITV News from a position of authority having begun investigating ex-soldier suicides after the shocking death of a fellow veteran.

Dave Evans was the friend of a close friend.

But the ripple effect of his death prompted Mr Wilde to question how many other veterans had died by suicide, often - like Mr Evans - having shown no prior mental health issues.

Mr Wilde, who served for 25 years, reached out to veteran communities and discovered a veteran would take their life on average every seven days - deaths which he said have gone unreported.

With even the Ministry of Defence failing to keep a record, Mr Wilde started to document the deaths himself.

Last year his organisation Veterans United Against Suicide found there had been 71 suicides before Christmas, a figure which reached 80 by the end of 2018.

By mid-February in 2019 a further nine ex-soldiers had taken their life, equating to more than one a week.

"It’s frightening to find the figures aren’t dropping off," he told ITV News.

"We need to get in at grassroots with this. When a soldier joins the forces, part of their training and syllabus should be mental health.

Jim Wilde served in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps before working six years for Kent Police. Credit: Jim Wilde

"You got a weapon in your hand, it's not all about what's on the end of that weapon and the life you take. It's on the guy who is using the weapon - how is taking a life affected him? He'll finish his tour - six months in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"At the end of that, they'll pay lip service to the guy. He'll pack his bags up and go home, and he's going to unload all of that trauma on his family and that's where the PTSD comes in and the family soak up that and it's not just the soldier who gets it - the family gets it."

Earlier this month, Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood expressed his regret over the number of suicides.

"I’m truly sorry. I’m sorry that they feel the armed forces, NHS, government has let them down," he told ITV News.

"Every single one of those suicides is a tragedy and I absolutely feel for every single one of those families and friends that are involved. There are no words that can replace their loved ones. We must improve, we must make sure that others are not following our suit."

That apology was not enough for Mr Wilde, who has been left frustrated by generic responses from the Ministry of Defence which he said "seem to say the suicide figures are not disproportionate with the civilian population".

He told ITV News: "That fired us up even more. What other walk of life loses one person every five days… every seven days?

"Is there a policeman that takes his own life every seven days? No. Doctor? Candlestick maker? Butcher? No."

Mr Wilde recognised suicide is not unique to veterans but "because of the nature of the work the veteran does and theatres of combat they work in there is obviously something that needs to be addressed".

Jim Wilde's son followed him into the Armed Forces. Credit: Jim Wilde

How he wants the issue to be addressed is through acknowledgement from the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.

"We know you’re busy, we’re all busy. But business doesn’t come into it when there’s loss of life. This needs to be addressed, we’d like something more than a generic response," Mr Wilde said.

"At the moment, we have no idea if the information or requests for information are reaching your desk. Talk to us.

"What we need is a response from you and an admission that this is not disproportionate - or not normal for the amount of people we are losing - it’s not normal by any stretch of the imagination."

Watch Jim Wilde's full message to Gavin Williamson:

Read more about PTSD affecting veteran communities:

What to do if you or someone you know needs help:

  • If you are in distress or need some support, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 116 123 or through their website.

  • Veterans' mental health charity Combat Stress is available 24 hours a day on 0800 138 1619 for veterans and their families, 0800 323 444 for serving personnel and their families, via text on 07537 404719, or through their website.

  • Veterans' charity SSAFA is available on 0800 731 4880 or through their website.

  • The Government's Veterans' Gateway offers advice and help for veterans seeking support and can be contacted on 0800 802 1212 or through the website.

  • Mind offers a helpline on 0300 123 3393 from 9am to 6pm.

  • Rock 2 Recovery - which helps veterans suffering from stress and their families - can be contacted on 01395 220072 Monday to Friday between 9am and 4pm, emailed at Support@rock2recovery.co.uk or through their website.

  • If you have lost a loved one in the military to suicide you can contact Jo Jukes who has created a private support group.