Afghanistan veteran says the last two weeks have ignited her PTSD

Former Army captain who served three tours in Afghanistan and specialised in community relations says recent events have triggered the PTSD she has spent years trying to overcome

  • Rachael Phillips from Darlington, served three tours in Afghanistan from 2008 
  • Thought PTSD for years after she was diagnosed following her first ever tour 
  • Scenes from Kabul in recent weeks ignited the PTSD had spent years treating

A veteran who served three tours of Afghanistan said the scenes of turmoil and evacuations of recent weeks had reignited her PTSD. 

Rachael Phillips, from Darlington, initially enlisted as a medic and, while serving on her first operational tour in 2008 as a project manager, employing local Afghans on infrastructure projects, dealt with serious trauma injuries.

She then commissioned as an officer with the Royal Engineers, becoming a Captain after training at Sandhurst, before switching to the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit, specialising in developing community relations.

Speaking on Good Morning Britain today, she explained she was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after her first tour of the country in 2008. 

She admitted the recent events in Afghanistan had resulted in a flare up of mild symptoms, as she worried about the women and children in the country.  

Rachael Phillips, from Darlington, pictured, who served in Afghanistan three times, said she felt her PTSD was flaring up again due to the Taliban takeover of the country in recent weeks 

Rachael, pictured during her service, was diagnosed with PTSD following her first tour of Afghanistan in 2008, 2009

Following a 21-year-long war in Afghanistan, the armed Islamist religious-political movement known as the Talibans have taken over the country following the announcement of the withdrawal of US and UK troupes. 

Rachael was invited onto the programme alongside Carol Betterbridge, the head of clinical support at Support our Heroes, to discuss how the situation in Afghanistan affected the veterans who had served there. 

‘I was diagnosed with PTSD after my first tour of Afghanistan in 2008, 2009, the years in between have been ups and downs, with periods where I’ve been absolutely fine and able to function normally ,but also times where it hasn’t been possible and very difficult times in my life,’ she said. 

‘Of course the events of the past few weeks and particularly last week have really brought back this chapter of my life which I had very carefully tried to keep closed,’ she added. 

‘I’ve done a lot of work on leaving behind and I think that my focus on Afghanistan when I first left the country was bordering on obsessive. 

‘I was checking the internet everyday trying to find updates on the village that I served, I stopped doing that in time and tried very hard to not think about Afghanistan anymore and I’ve moved on and my life has moved on significantly and I feel in a much better place. 

What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.

People with PTSD often suffer nightmares and flashbacks to the traumatic event and can experience insomnia and an inability to concentrate.    

Symptoms are often severe enough to have a serious impact on the person’s day-to-day life, and can emerge straight after the traumatic event or years later. 

PTSD is thought to affect about one in every three people who have a traumatic experience, and was first documented in the First World War in soldiers with shell shock.

People who are worried they have PTSD should visit their GP, who could recommend a course of psychotherapy or anti-depressants, the NHS say. 

Combat Stress operate a 24-hour helpline for veterans, which can be reached on 0800 138 1619.  

‘But obviously what is happening at the moment is bringing it all back to before and I’ve noticed that much milder symptoms have started resurfacing.’

After she was asked by Ranvir Singh, Rachael read an extract of an essay she wrote to explain what her PTSD felt life. 

‘It is a piece that I was asked to write by the Armed Forces Christian Union back in 2016 just to help people understand what it’s like first hand,’ Rachael explained. 

‘It was just the bathroom door slamming in the breeze, but I was ready, I was ready to hit the floor and take cover or fight, or run or whatever. 

‘I was ready for anything, I had never felt more ready, and now my mind has caught up and I realise it’s just the door. 

‘I feel a lot of other thing as the fear subsides, I feel silly, I feel ashamed, I feel sad, I feel sorry for myself, I feel angry at myself, I sometimes feel angry at the army too.’

The veteran also said she was ‘extremely worried’ about how the Taliban take over of Afghanistan would affect the women  and children of the country. 

She said it felt like all the progress and the steps people had taken to educate themselves and the hopes and dreams they had started to form was ‘taken from under them.  

Carol Betteridge, Head of Clinical Services at Help For Heroes thanks Rachael for her testimony, saying it was ‘very important that people talk about what’s happening to them and the feeling that they have.’

Carol said she felt asking whether British intervention in Afghanistan was or wasn’t worth it wasn’t ‘helpful’ to veterans.  

‘What we’re trying to do is support those veterans and I think the question “was it worth it/was it a waste of time is actually unhelpful,’ she said. 

‘Whatever you did in Afghanistan, whatever you are in the armed forces, you always try to have an effect. 

The veteran said she worked for years on letting go and leaving her memories of Afghanistan, right, behind 

Carol Betterbridge, the head of Clinical services at Help For Heroes, said asking the question ‘was it worth it’ was unhelpful to veterans 

‘I think we all tried to have an effect when we did that mission and tried to help the Afghan people, and showed them what a different way of life might look like.’

She went on to explain what Help For Heroes did to support veterans.  

‘So what we like to do is let all our veterans and other armed forces personnel know that we’re proud of them. 

‘We’ve launched a campaign called #stillourheories because they are still our heroes, and we want them to feel proud. 

‘I know they’ll feel angry but I want them to know everything they do for us, we feel is worthwhile.’  

People appreciated hearing the story of a veteran like Rachel. 

‘Listen to our Afghanistan veterans, just listen to them #gmb, read their books,’ one said. 

‘The most simple things can drag you back into your PTSD hell. Even one word is a trigger and you can sense, see and smell everything that triggers it,’ one said. 

‘You feel every drop of cold sweat running down your body & shake uncontrollably in a frozen sweating state. It’s horrible,’ they went on. 

‘`PTSD is a hidden disability… it can affect anyone in any job,’ said another.  

Viewers appreciated hearing Rachael’s story and sympathised with her PTSD, saying it was ‘hidden disability’

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