Devon charity becomes 'safe space' for women veterans struggling with mental health

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A charity which supports people struggling with their mental health who have left the Armed Forces or are still in the military says it wants more women to know there is help out there if they feel they need it.

Veterans Outdoors supports around 150 men and women - but says often what is not talked about is that a woman's experience of the military can be different from her male counterparts.

The charity was set up in Devon to offer people support - usually in outdoor settings.

Last year, with funding from the Armed Forces Covenant, the charity created Project Artemis specifically to focus on the needs of women. 

Suzy Simpson left the Navy two years ago and has been working with the charity at Pentillie Castle, in Cornwall, helping to restore its walled garden.

She believes there are many women veterans who need support: "A lot of women think, 'oh I don't need to, I'll be ok', but they should speak out.

"You don't want to be at that point in your life where you are on a fence and you don't know which way you are going. You don't want to get to that point. Don't keep it in, don't let it build up."

Suzy left the Navy two years ago. Credit: ITV News

Veterans Outdoors has around 150 people registered with them - half of who the charity says are women.

Jeremy Hibbard, Chief Executive of Veterans Outdoors, said: "The plight of some of our women veterans is really important to us and it has been a big innovation in what we have done over the last year.

"We recognise that a woman's journey through the Armed Forces can be completely different from that of her male counterparts and in some cases the trauma has nothing to do with combat and nothing to do with any military engagement, it simply comes from being a woman in a man's world.

"There are plenty of stories around of women who have found that very, very difficult and so we wanted to give female veterans a safe place to come, a safe space where they can share experiences with other female veterans, not be judged and say the things they really want to say."

Veterans Outdoors says the West Country has the highest concentration of military veterans of any region in the UK, with an estimated 300,000 living between Bristol and Penzance.

It is estimated around one in six of those leaving the service do so with some kind of mental health condition.

Dave has been coming to the gardens at Pentillie Castle for over a year. Credit: ITV News

Dave Kerton, a Royal Navy Veteran, has been going to the charity for more than a year.

He told ITV News: "We recently lost a veteran to suicide not long ago and that kind of shook all of us.

"It just reminds us that we are here together and it is that kind of tight knit military family that we have go each others backs here.

"Whereas out there in the civilian world we can talk about stuff and no one understands it so I think somewhere like this really does help."