‘Military PTSD left me living out of my car’: Hackney ex-serviceman urges others to seek help

Neil Pressley (Photo: Polly Hancock)

Neil Pressley (Photo: Polly Hancock) - Credit: Archant

The Gazette speaks to ex-serviceman Neil Pressley who was helped by the military charity SSAFA when he was living on the streets.

Neil Pressley’s lowest ebb came when he was living out of his car, going into supermarkets to use the bathroom.

With the winter months approaching he was cold, and feeling desolate and lonely – and at times suicidal.

Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - which he credits to his 12 years’ service in the army – he had lost his wife, children and his job at the age of just 33.

Orphaned at 14, he had fallen out with the rest of his family and joined the following year. He did two tours of Northern Ireland and a five-year stint covering Kosovo and Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.

During that time, Neil who now lives in Ickburgh Road, Upper Clapton, witnessed comrades and civilians being killed around him and he too had some very close calls.

He told the Gazette: “It was definitely my time in the armed forces that made me develop PTSD. If you’ve ever read anything about Northern Ireland and Bosnia, you will understand some of the atrocities we saw, which no human being should ever see or ever go through.

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“To be quite honest the only way to deal with it is to put what you have seen at the back of your mind and get on with life. In my day it was a case of you went to the bar, you got drunk and you got on with the next job.”

But eventually it caught up with him: “I have no idea why it came out in the end. Life was going so well at the time. I’d just had a new son, my wife was pregnant with my youngest daughter.”

He began to drink heavily and was bad-tempered. When he finally managed to sleep he would wake up screaming and drenched in cold sweat. A doctor diagnosed him with PTSD and sent him for counselling - but “things got worse before they got better”.

After three months of living in the car, “not knowing what to do and not having a clue” he remembered the armed forces charity SSAFA, which all service men pledge to pay a day’s wages to when they join.

“Not a lot of people remember. It took me a while until I knocked on their door and asked for help,” said Neil, who now works for them advising people in a similar situation to what he has been through.

SSAFA provided Neil with a hostel room, and supported him back into work as a publican.

But according to the charity’s research fewer than 1 per cent of veterans would ask a charity for assistance, even if they were in need, because they have been taught a “grin and bear it” mentality in the armed forces. Its campaign Got Your Back is aimed at beating “stiff upper lip” culture.

“The biggest problem is - like myself - a lot of people have pride,” said Neil. “The hardest part is swallowing your pride and knocking, but we are there to help and understand the problems they are going through. We are not there to give a hand-out, but a hand-up, and guide them back to living.”

You can call the SSAFA helpline on 0800 731 4880.