A FORMER RAF officer whose career was ended by multiple sclerosis is calling on more service personnel to seek help for mental health problems after being given a lifeline by a Help For Heroes project.
Flight Lieutenant Jon Knott suffered a life-changing loss of self-worth when he was diagnosed with MS, ending his 27-year career in the RAF.
Mr Knott, 47, of Doncaster, was medically discharged in January 2014 after being diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS in 2006 and progressive MS in 2011 as his condition deteriorated.
He is urging troops to seek help from the Help for Heroes Hidden Wounds (HHHW) project.
After feeling like he was struggling in an “anxious loop that could not be broken”, Mr Knott now believes he has to the tools to try to move forward, despite knowing his worsening illness will one day force him to use a wheelchair.
Mr Knott, who saw active duty in the Falkland Islands, had struggled to contain his anger at his failing mobility, and felt “cheated” by his illness.
He became frustrated as his focus began to fail and he could no longer take pride in doing things as well as he used to, and worries about how he would provide for his wife Vicky and daughter Jade added to his problems.
After pressure from friends and family to seek help, Mr Knott made contact with HHHW which has helped almost 1,000 veterans since being launched in September 2014.
HHHW offers free and confidential support to veterans, their relatives and the families of those still serving who are struggling with common mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression or anger.
It has recorded a 66% increase in referrals, growing from 304 in the year to September 2015 to 505 a year later. Of those 505, at least 341 were veterans or reservists and at least 100 were family members of veterans or service personnel.
Mr Knott said finding someone who understood military life and could chat informally, before advising and challenging him, was a big boost, helping to improve his approach to life.
He said: “I was not aware this help was available. It is hard asking for help and I did it after a lot of browbeating.
“I went to a very dark place and now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am not there yet but Hidden Wounds has helped give me focus.
“I know I am still a human. I am still me. I am not entirely on the scrap heap. Sometimes you need to hear that from somebody who is not entirely involved in your private life.”
With HHHW’s help, Mr Knott is working towards completing a series of challenges. He is set goals which gradually get harder and builds towards meeting them.
This approach saw Mr Knott, a man who was “far from sporty” in 2011 when he was took his first tricycle ride, complete a 500km cycle across Africa in April. It helped to raise £314,000 for Help For Heroes.
He said: “Although I am failing physically on some things like balance and my speech is slurry, these things are less of a factor because I am achieving something.
“I am with like-minded people who also want to achieve something.”
Mr Knott said he is “trying to do everything I can now while my body is still available” and that HHHW has helped him find “some acceptance” of the fact he will need to use a wheelchair.
He said: “I think that talking to people and the assistance it provides is like a sanctuary. This project helped me. It is surprising how much we do not talk.”