The loss of several loved ones in a short space of time left Sgt Mark Cunningham feeling depressed and suffering from panic attacks. With support from the RAF and the RAF Benevolent Fund he is now back on track. Mark, an ICT Technician at Defence Equipment and Support, the procurement arm of the MOD, has agreed to tell his story for World Mental Health Day.
I've been serving in the RAF for 24 years, and always known about the incredible support the RAF Benevolent Fund gives to servicemen and women but until last year I hadn't needed to call on them.
I started to struggle when I lost several people close to me at once. Within six months my wife's grandfather, my uncle and my father passed away. Added to that a young service colleague passed unexpectedly, and I attended his funeral which was extremely emotional due to his young age.
As a trained mental health first aider, I began to notice the signs of depression in myself and I knew I needed to seek extra support. I also began to suffer from panic attacks which were incredibly debilitating. I had one while I was riding in to work and I had to turn back and return home, and another which was so severe I had to leave a work conference.
In the first instance, I received support from the RAF and was referred to the Departments of Community Mental Health. I underwent some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy training and was prescribed some anti-depressants. Despite this, I felt the medicinal route and the CBT hadn't completely resolved my mental health issues so I looked for some extra support.
It was a complete relief when I contacted the Fund and they directed me to their Listening and Counselling service, where I was given 13 counselling sessions. The sessions gave me the opportunity to talk about my experiences and the people I had lost and come to terms with that. It helped me to realise the things which are within my control and those which are not.
In fact, my daughter and my wife have seen the positive impact counselling had for me and have also been for some sessions.
Now I am on the road to recovery and am working towards being anti-depressant free by the end of the year. I think the support networks the RAF have are first class.