BATTLE AGAINST STIGMA
Photo and text book uniquely disseminated, accompanied by an exhibition and film. Exhibited at SK Kultur Cologne and Kunsthalle Nuremberg in 2016, coming to QUAD museum, Derby, England, on March 30th through to June 10th 2018, and to the Daiwa Art Foundation, Japan House, London, as part of the 2018 Daiwa Art Foundation Prize 2018 opening on June 7th 2018
Supported by Mark Neville and the Wellcome Trust
A book, a series of photographs, and portfolios of e-mail responses from veterans to the book
The Battle Against Stigma exhibition features photographs, films, emails and copies of a book, also titled Battle Against Stigma, that recounts Neville’s own personal experience when he was sent out to Helmand in 2011 as an official war artist. The exhibition and book intend to give some insight into the issue of adjustment disorder and PTSD which he suffered from on his return to the UK. The Battle Against Stigma book, co-authored by Neville and veteran mental health expert Jamie Hacker Hughes, is divided into two-volumes. The first volume is the re-telling, including his photographs, of Neville’s own personal experience when he was sent out to Helmand in 2011 as an official war artist and his troubled return, and the second volume is made-up of the written testimonies about PTSD and adjustment disorder from serving and ex-serving soldiers. The first 500 copies of the book were seized at customs by UK Border Force. However, a second consignment of 1,000 copies entered the UK via a different route thus escaping seizure and arriving safely at Neville’s studio. Throughout 2015 Neville distributed these copies free to Defence Mental Health Services, prison libraries, homeless veterans, probation services, and veteran mental health charities. Neville wrote an essay on his PTSD, including extracts from the book, for The Independent News Review magazine in 2015, in which he encouraged veterans to contact him. The response was a staggering 1,000 emails sent from veterans, families and friends, organisations (as well as non-veterans) sharing their experiences of these conditions and requesting copies of the book. A selection of these emails is included in the exhibition. Together this mass of documentation constitutes a major new insight into the experiences of those suffering from mental illness following service in modern warfare. Neville’s presents his own experience of war related trauma, along with others’ in order to encourage other sufferers to speak out.
During the exhibition Mark Neville and former RAF Sergeant Sammy Sturgess will also be hosting a day long event at QUAD museum in which veterans are invited to contribute to a collection of oral history accounts of PTSD and adjustment disorders collated from former British service personnel and their support networks. The aim of the event is to encourage a cultural shift amongst the UK population, MOD and government that will remove the stigma of talking about military mental health, Neville will create a manifesto of improvements that can be implemented by the MoD, based on empirical evidence collated from veterans and their support networks, which will invoke progress in the development of better provision for the prevention of war related mental health conditions within the military. The archive of testimonies which Neville collects relating to post traumatic stress disorder and adjustment disorder experienced by British service personnel will be ultimately housed at Kings’ College London’s Archive, to inform future research and policy.
Are you a former serviceman or woman who feels you may be suffering with adjustment disorder? Please write to me in confidence at email@example.com to receive a free copy of Battle Against Stigma.
Below are two of the thousands of e-mails Neville received from veterans in response to the PROJECT, reproduced Here and in THE EXHIBITION with full consent:
From: Luke Lovejoy
Subject: ‘Battle Against Stigma’
Date: 28 May 2015 14:21
I read your article in the Independent with tears in my eyes. My son served in Afghanistan with the Special Forces Support Group and has been struggling with PTSD since his return and since leaving the Army. His relationship with his partner broke down shortly after his return, he ran up significant debts and he won't speak to me (for over a year) as I seem to be some sort of representation of the demons in his life. I was an Army officer for many years and an obvious 'authority figure' with whom he is struggling. Maybe there is blame on my part. This has at least allowed him to focus his anger and whatever else on me and we no longer fear that he might take his own life, and so as hard as it it, it is something that I can bear in the hope that it gives him the room he needs to become well again. Fortunately he still maintains a relationship with my wife and that is how we stay in touch, but he, like you, is definitely struggling to readjust and is resisting help. He had a small amount of therapy, which seemed to start him on a journey that he is now unable to continue, and he refuses to take anti-depressants.
Please can you send me a copy of your book?
I hope that if we give him the book (via my wife) that he might identify with it and gain some insight which might help him. What you are doing is important. Thank-you. I don't have a God of my own, but if you do then may he or she or they bless you for what you are doing.
I wish you well with your own continuing journey of adjustment and hope you continue to thrive.
From: John Pingree
Subject: Adjustment Disorder
Date: 29 May 2015 10:03
I read with interest the article you wrote on adjustment disorder and PTSD. It struck a chord with me. Many of the symptoms you wrote about I can relate to having experienced them myself. Upon return from Afghan, I found that I had a very short temper, everything seemed trivial compared to my daily routine and also to the things I had done. My marriage suffered. However long I deployed for, it took the same amount of time for me and my family to readjust to each other. I thought my marriage would break down but fortunately - and I still don't know how, we stayed together.
I am an ex RAF Tornado navigator, I spent 12 years in the RAF and left when constant operations had taken their toll on my marriage and personal well being. I've been to Afghan 4 times and whilst I'm pleased and proud that I served there, I am a different person to the one who first went in October 2009.
My story is different to yours. I didn't spend time in forward operating bases eating rations and sleeping nervously with an ever present risk of small arms fire and IDF. By contrast, in Kandahar, life was comfortable. I had a bunk bed, duvet, home comforts and a choice of dining facilities. We were regularly IDF'd, there were fatalities - usually those who did not follow the IDF drills and I'll always remember the 'crump-bang' sound.
For me though, my war was played on a TV screen in the back of a Tornado measuring about 8x6 inches, this was my view of the war below. We gave Close Air Support to ground troops beneath us. We would sometimes fly over them at low level to help raise their spirits, if they got into trouble, we would fly over enemy firing points in an attempt to stop them using non lethal force. If that didn't work, we would attack them from the air. We would sometimes call the screen 'death tv'. I would direct the attack from the back seat and would usually see the results instantly. You can make out people on the screen, you can also see when they stop being people.
I once provided overwatch alongside an Apache and passed coordinates of a group of insurgents. The Apache engaged and I saw the insurgents peppered with rounds from the Apache's gun. I then saw one of the insurgents explode on death TV as the RPG rounds he was carrying on his back 'cooked off'. Where I was affected though was not seeing it once. All this is recorded. Part of my job was to write a report on what had happened during the sortie. In order to get the facts right for the report, I would have to go through my video tapes again and again. One report took me three hours to complete. When there was an important part of the sortie, we would spend a long time going through the tapes. I didn't watch these guys die once. I saw them die 7 or 8 times. I think this had an impact on me.
I also dropped quite a few weapons from my own jet onto insurgent positions. If there was an attack by one of us, all the detachment would be interested and want to see it. Even those who had no right to. This felt like an invasion on me professionally as everyone would judge - but they couldn't judge because they weren't there. They laughed at the fate of those who died. Inside I berated them for having no respect for dead, they were still people just fighting for what they believed in. We also had to debrief everything we had done. I watched the men that I had killed die 10-15 times. One man took 12 hours to die of his injuries. I could see him suffering on the tape. He was hit by shrapnel from one of my rounds. He ran about 100m before bending doubled over. His carried him 50m to a building and took him inside. He died the next day. This caused me some grief. The grief wasn't caused by him being killed. He was trying to kill British soldiers. If I didn't kill him he would have continued to try and kill our own soldiers. The grief was because I knew he would have suffered during that time.
Viewing these videos so many times has left them imprinted on my mind. I watch them again and again when I go to sleep - but I don't want to see them. I wake up completely drenched in sweat - some nights I'd wake up with sweating dripping off me, dry off, put on a pair of pyjama trousers and t-shirt, only to wake up two hours later and have to change them. I loved my job. But I left it. I left it for many reasons but the main one is that I don't want to feel like this anymore and turning my back on it seemed the only way.
Thanks for the article - it made me realise that others feel the same way, I'm not alone with how I am. There are reasons for it and slowly i'm beginning to understand them. The more I understand the less time I spend changing into a dry t-shirt at 3am.