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Labels and Stigma - Lenny Szrama

Once I had an identity

A small notion of me

Taken in by the MOD

Then apart by psychiatry

Now I have many labels

A hidden mark for all to see

Impulsive, weirdo, loser, odd

Can all of these be me?

All applied at points in time

With varying accuracy

You might think labels distasteful

That I can guarantee

But also quite essential

To get any help, you see

He’s this; he’s that, he’s something else

The specialists can’t even agree

Yet diagnosed as mentally ill

I have a new identity

On one hand you acknowledge,

Then deny that I exist

Waiting for a referral

To an endless waiting list

For a condition that can’t be seen,

You don’t qualify as deserving

A pat on the head, a few warm words

From the country I was serving

Please, just look how you behave

With patronizing everyday actions

Excluding the psychiatric

From normal everyday interactions.


"I suffered a few traumatic events, the first soon after joining the army, the last, military one anyway, 12 years later. The first at eighteen, was the suicide of my room mate with a machine gun, from then on it was downhill. The mental health problems started to appear.

I became quiet, withdrawn, would binge on alcohol, then hide away for days. I became depressed, constantly feeling disconnected from everything around me, my behaviour became erratic and destructive. I was trapped in a strange place of not wanting to kill myself, but at the same time, wanting to die.

Now it would seem obvious to people that something is wrong, but as a friend once told me "when you are surrounded by madness, who can spot a madman".

It wasn't acknowledged or treated back then (the wonderful 80's), and when it came to leaving the Army in 1995 , I was declared fit, but isn't everyone. Six months later I had my first of many diagnoses. Adjustment Disorder. Apparently it was supposed to go after a while, but it never did. I guess I never adjusted.

The up shot of all that, is that it has essentially dominated my life from then on. It has impacted on my marriages, leading to two divorces, and my children have no real contact at all. I have tried to fix it with my son, but he was around when I tried to take my life and I don't think he can forgive me for that. And my daughter, I feel she believes I totally destroyed her childhood. That I just wasn't there. I was oblivious to it, but she could well be right.

In 2009 massive stress brought about by bullying at work, problems at home, and problems with my son, who came to live with me, led to a massive nervous breakdown.

I ran away from home for four weeks, spent 6 grand on a credit card, drank a bottle of port a day. I thought I was a clothes designer and believed I could interpret bar codes so that I would win the lottery. Eventually I returned.

At that point I was diagnosed with a myriad of mental health problems. Bi-polar, PTSD, Anxiety Disorder, Depressive Disorder, Psychotic Depression, oh and I was told I might have Asperger's but as it "hadn't affected my life, there was no point in getting a proper diagnosis". I still don't know what to believe, but that's mental health for you.

The difficulties at home worsened, and in 2011 after a few failed suicide attempts on my part, being charged with assault, and being detained under the mental health act, I became homeless into the bargain.

Eventually finding my way in to a veterans homeless centre in Catterick Garrison. During these times I kept a diary about my experiences of what I was going through and what was happening to me,how as a mentally ill veteran you are treated by the MOD and how mental health is treated in general by the NHS, Benefits Agencies etc.

I also at this time took up poetry and art as a way off dealing with it. This led me then into doing what I could to raise awareness of male mental health, male suicide, mental health problems in general, PTSD and homelessness.

The art and poetry has had some recognition. But, I believe there is still a long way to go before poor mental health is really out in the open."

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