Army life left me suicidal but now I’m helping others fight their own demons

2 Nov 2023
Trigger warning: This article contains mentions of suicide, mental health illness, alcohol and drug abuse.

When he left the Army, Craig Robbins found that the mental scars of life on the frontline in places like Bosnia and Northern Ireland were not so easily put in the closet as his old uniform.

He left the forces after 12 years with the Royal Greenjackets, during which time he rose to the rank of corporal, responsible for the eight-man patrols he led.

He wanted to spend more time with his wife and two young children but, experiencing PTSD, he turned to drink and drugs to dull the memories of past conflicts, of friends lost and wounded. 

He got into trouble with the law and seriously contemplated suicide.

“They were dark times; days and weeks when you felt your life was in a rut from which there was no escape,” he says. “Drink and drugs helped to numb the pain, and eventually I fought through it.”

He found a job offering close protection to celebrities, before realising he could use his Army experience in a more useful way – to help others fight their own demons.

That was when he applied for the job of Personal Wellbeing Advisor with Ingeus, supporting people on probation, eventually helping them towards worthwhile employment.

He says: “I thought I could pass on some of my personal experience. Having been in trouble with the law and struggled when I came out of the Army, I have knowledge of what these people go through.”

Forty-five-year-old Craig’s two years with Ingeus has also seen him take a leading role as an advocate for the qualities ex-service people can bring to many businesses.

He says: “Reliability, strong leadership, great teamwork, fierce work ethic, an ability to think on their feet . . . and they are never late for meetings!”

Ingeus was already fully signed up to the value veterans bring to the business, with an Armed Forces Network to help them settle in once they join the business, as well as being signatories of the Armed Forces Covenant, which recognises veteran-friendly companies.

Now Craig, who has volunteered to head up the network, is involved in a new recruitment campaign targeted at ex-forces people.

He is also helping to produce a guide for Ingeus managers on what to expect when an ex-service person joins their team.

It includes a wellbeing action plan and advice on the triggers that may bring back painful or horrific memories for veterans.

“It may sound silly but on bonfire night the sound of fireworks might affect people,” he says. “Remembrance Day and even Armed Forces Day can be a time when memories of mates lost in action resurface.”

He has introduced a section of the business intranet with advice for veterans or their colleagues, as well as regular online drop-in clinics where people can talk directly to him.

“It’s not just for those who have served,” he says, “but their partners, children and families who may all have been affected by the loss or illness of a loved one or having to deal with long periods of separation.

“The support Ingeus gave me when I joined two years ago was just what I needed, it was superb.”

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