The wounds you can't see: How Afghanistan veterans deal with life after warfare

ITV News Senior Correspondent Paul Davies hears from the Afghan veterans about life and warfare

In 2006, the soldiers of C Company, 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, posed for a photo at their base in Sangin in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. At that time, Sangin was the most dangerous place on earth, the centre of British forces' fight against the Taliban. The Paras were sent to Helmand Province after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, a response to the September 11 terror attacks in the United States. The campaign lasted 20 years and cost the lives of 457 British soldiers. ITV News has tried to trace the people on the C Company photograph 15 years on to tell their stories, in our series Afghanistan: Photo From The Frontline.

By ITV News Senior News Editor Paul Tyson

The photograph below of C Company, 3 Para shows 128 British soldiers. At least eight of them now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

C Company posed for this photograph ahead of their tour in Afghanistan in 2006.

This is in line with research suggesting the overall rate of PTSD in military veterans is 7.4%, but that perhaps 17% of veterans whose last deployment was a combat role may go on to experience the condition.

Euan Goodman served in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he left the army, he returned to work in both countries with a private security company

“It’s very, very addictive, really addictive because you are overseas, doing what you trained for, it’s so full of adrenaline and excitement…a complete natural high, produced by yourself, phenomenally potent,” he said.

But a series of traumatic incidents took their toll.

Euan Goodman serving in Afghanistan.

“I was drinking constantly when back on leave or in the UK, inability to sleep, recurrent nightmares, feelings of anxiety," he said

"I was a wholly functioning human being, but I was going through periods of being depressed, just living with it, at the bottom of a bottle of whisky most nights a week but still getting up, going for a run, going to work.

“It’s very difficult to know you are in it unless someone else says, and then you’ve got to be able to take their advice and acknowledge that something’s not right.

"I ignored it for many years until I came to be sat on the sofa with combat stress.

"There’s still a degree of bravado, I think less so now, we’re allowed to talk about mental health a lot more… it feels easier to talk about it now.”

  • Euan Goodman describes his "addiction" to warfare but the PTSD that soon followed, ITV News Geraint Vincent reports

The medical establishment has come a long way in terms of treating PTSD, various treatments are available and depending on the severity of the condition it can be cured or at least managed.

The key, says Euan, is to seek help early.

“I’m fully recovered, I say I’m fully recovered until a balloon bursts… I hate my children playing with balloons, I don’t go to birthday parties with balloons, I hate Guy Fawkes," he said.

"There are little things like that that still get you but I haven’t had negative feelings associated with those experiences for years now… you are always going to feel it, it’s always going to be there but you can deal with it and you can live with it."

He added: “It’s good that we are all talking about it, there are three or four people that I have pointed in the direction of their GP or Combat Stress and said you need to sort this out, go and have a chat, go and please make a phone call, I can’t do it for you but… talk to one of these organisations because they can help, they do help.”

Less well known than PTSD, but equally concerning, is the range and scale of other mental health problems that veterans experience. Stress, anxiety, survivors guilt, depression, adjustment disorders - all are common.

ITV News asked 35 of the men from C Company whether they felt their military service had a negative effect on their mental health - 18 of them, over half, said it had.

Of the many Afghanistan veterans who have taken their own lives in recent months only a small number had been diagnosed with PTSD.

One man from C Company who came close to ending his own life while he was still in the Army was Evan Davies, from Swansea.

He said: “It was about a year after I found out my mother had died and just a few months after we returned from Afghanistan and I was trying to come to terms with everything that had happened and I’d been out drinking, I was drinking a lot at that time, and somebody made a comment…'this isn’t life this is just existing'.

“That put me in a dark place at the time and just hearing that phrase it really resonated with me so I drunk a bit more, went back to camp later in the night, on the way stopped in at the chemist bought loads of pills, decided then that I was going to go back to my room, eat all these pills, down some vodka, go to sleep and be done with it.”

Evan Davies opens up on attempting to take his own life

A friend rushed Evan to hospital where medics were able to save his life, but even afterwards he found it hard to discuss how he was feeling with people at home who he felt would be unable to understand.

“I know a number, well, far too many people who have lost their lives both in conflict and afterwards because they’ve been unable to cope with the experiences.

"The number of suicides that have happened to veterans recently is a shocking number, you know, it’s sickening.

"There needs to be something in place to support these guys, so they’ve got somewhere to turn to,” he said.

Nick Quinton, a territorial army soldier who volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan with 3 Para remembers the challenge of adjusting back to civilian life.

He said: “You can’t appreciate how much of a contrast it is unless you’ve been through it and how alien those two worlds are.

"Everything that’s important in Afghanistan, being a soldier, whatever you do in a day is completely different to how I live my life as a civilian in England, it couldn’t be more different.

"Even the very basic stuff - getting up, cleaning your teeth, contacting a loved one, going to work, buying a cup of coffee… to waking up checking your weapon, checking your ammo checking your equipment, going onto a sentry position, waking up because you’ve been contacted, because you’ve been attacked by the enemy, you are having then to shoot another human being.

"The contrast is so huge that to integrate yourself back into normal society is a very tough process, and I think it gets overwhelming at times."

'You can't prepare... to look in the eyes of a mother who has just lost her child': Nick Quinton describes the difficulty of living with actions taken in Afghanistan

He added: “What’s important out there is very obvious, you are trying to survive, trying to keep your friends alive and yourself alive that’s the priority.

"Back here, you’re not really sure how to fit in, what you should be doing next, what should be your priority.

"I think that’s where things can really start to unwind for people and spiral… I did struggle with that.”

Paul Blair, who commanded C Company in 2006 recalls a reunion of officers from the Parachute Regiment where: “Someone was brave enough to ask the question, ’is everyone OK, anyone having any issues or got any problems?’

"I only did one tour of Afghanistan, others did subsequent tours but, to a man, everyone around the table said, yes, in some shape or form I’m dealing with some demons.”

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

The Combat Stress helpline is: 0800 138 1619

PTSD Resolution helpline: 0300 302 0551

Read more stories from our series Afghanistan: Photo From The Frontline