Owen Dykes was just 15-and-a-half when he joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery in 1990 as a ‘boy soldier’. In 1993, he served in Northern Ireland, then three years later, with the United Nations in Cyprus. He served in warzones from Bosnia and Northern Ireland to Iraq and Afghanistan and has lost numerous comrades in action.

After 24 years of service in the British Army, Owen struggled to settle back into civilian life and was left with a raft of undiagnosed mental health problems. Although he has support from his loving wife and young daughters, the difficulties of reintegrating into society took such a toll on Owen that he became suicidal, twice coming close to taking his own life.

As he “fell into darkness” a friend recognised that he was suffering and suggested he speak to his GP. Owen said: “I remember the GP asking me “Are you close to suicide?”. I turned to jelly, and I told him I was one step away from it. Everything poured out. “Speaking about it was the best thing I could have done, because from that point things began to improve.”

He received a diagnosis of Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), social isolation, survivor’s guilt and depression, and I was referred to the Bury Military Veterans Service for counselling, who have been his literal lifeline. Owen is now in a much better place, working as a traffic planner in Salford, although he still struggles with flashbacks and nightmares from his operational duties. He is also a hands-on dad for his two daughters and a keen runner, often rising before 5am to get the most out of his days. Owen says, “I would urge anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts to just talk about it.” He was suffering in silence and just didn’t know where to turn, but once he had told his GP how he was feeling it was a major turning point. He found his place in the world again.

Owen misses’ life in the Army, it gave him a structure to his day, developed in him a sense of “loyalty, courage, being up-front, respecting one another and of belonging, together with the need to help others.” He went onto say “the Army is a brotherhood.” During his 24 years’ service he lost 12 brothers, these are brothers that he joined up with, took the oath of allegiance with which he worked and lived together. Every day he lives with the memories or his brothers still on patrol.

Today, Owen attends Andy Mans Club Bury, a talking group for men whose aim is to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health and create a judgement free, confidential space where men can be open about the storms in their lives. Please remember suicide is the biggest killer of men under 49, and of women aged between 20 and 34, and the leading cause of death in 15- to 29-year-olds.

All members thanked Owen for a very emotive presentation, for which St Annes, Tottington Mothers’ Union is truly indebted. We wish Owen and his family the very best for the future.

Frances