Lieutenant Colonel Joe Winch was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) three years ago.
Since then, his wife, Amy, has been doing what she can to support him.
The couple, who have four children, have spoken openly about Joe’s mental health, and about how their teamwork ensures that the whole family is as happy and healthy as possible.
Amy finds encouragement from the peer support network, The Ripple Pond, sharing her feelings with others and offering advice.
Joe has adopted a trailblazing attitude to his recovery, by writing articles about his experiences, raising awareness, and dismantling taboos surrounding mental health.
The Impact Of PTSD
In 2017, Amy’s husband, Lieutenant Colonel Joe Winch, Royal Marines, was diagnosed with PTSD.
A decade of going through traumatic experiences eventually took its toll on Joe’s mental health, leaving him devastated.
Nothing seemed to ease his pain, and Joe was unable to support his family or function as an independent adult.
PTSD can be just as catastrophic as a physical injury, and it destroyed Joe’s world.
Although still serving, Joe hasn’t been able to work in three years.
Before his diagnosis, Amy noticed changes in her husband.
She said: “We knew that there was something awry just after the birth of our third child.
"He was suffering quite a lot from lack of sleep, but it wasn't due to the baby.
"We wondered then what was going on with the nightmares and flashbacks…
"We were just trying to deal with the basic things in life – eating and sleeping well to keep on top of everything.”
Joe was officially diagnosed with PTSD after being wrongly told he had failed a hearing test.
Not knowing he had PTSD at the time, he was devastated and attributed his symptoms such as pain and anxiety to his hearing issue. He rapidly became plagued by fear and dread for the future.
Amy said: “In a space of an hour his world had come crashing down around his ears.
"He thought he had lost his job, his home, family: where are we going to go? What are we going to do? And then he stewed on this for about 10 days while on a foreign trip.
"He came back on the Monday morning and literally broke down in front of the doctor.”
The GP immediately recognised the signs of PTSD and referred him to a specialist.
A Positive Approach To Managing Symptoms
PTSD can limit people’s capacity to handle stress that is in addition to basic life tasks.
However, Amy and Joe take positive measures such as minimising exposure to Joe’s triggers, such as noise and people, to manage his symptoms.
Amy and Joe also sit down every day to analyse situations, and discuss how they dealt with them retrospectively. They’re constantly learning for the good of Joe’s mental health and the family.
Amy added: “The more he does in a day, the less capability he has to do anything else like go to work and hold down a job. What we've done from the start is pare everything right back to basically doing nothing, and then having to reintroduce slowly one thing at a time to see how much we can manage. And if it gets too much, we pull it back again.”
This slow but supportive process is clearly helping Joe manage his PTSD as he’s gone on to recently achieve an amazing feat – more details below.
Lockdown and homeschooling has proven to be challenging for the family in some ways, but positive in others. Amy has noticed that the disruption to Joe’s usual daily routine has had an impact, as well as not being able to have therapy.
Having the children at home is also proving challenging with Amy “juggling” their needs while supporting Joe.
The upside of lockdown is that with fewer people around, Joe has felt comfortable going out and about.
Finding And Giving Support
Amy clearly is committed to her family’s welfare and with four children, she needs to be resilient. She’s found her own support from a military peer support network called The Ripple Pond.
Amy said: “During lockdown it’s been mostly online, but they also do meetings and groups. And so, previously, we could go and meet other partners and people supporting others who are suffering with mental health conditions.
“You can find people anytime, day or night.
"Someone will be there to support you; helping to pick you back up again for the next day.
"And for me, the support is in helping others, so I try and post positive comments on some of the Facebook groups that they have.”
Planning The Future
Three years since his diagnosis and Joe is doing much better, although he and Amy are expecting to leave the military after his next medical assessment scheduled for later this year.
Amy said: “We need to carve a new path in some way. There are things that Joe enjoys doing. He loves mountaineering, he loves climbing.
"So it's trying to learn more of those skills, but also how he can maybe use those to either help others or to provide a bit of an income as well, for us to keep everything ticking along."
Leveraging his leadership role in the Royal Marines, Joe is committed to being a driving force behind ending taboos regarding PTSD.
He wants other sufferers to know, it's okay to not to be okay.
Incredibly, Joe recently climbed to the peak of Everest – an event that gave his confidence and self-esteem a huge boost.
In an article about his ascent, he described his experience: “Even though my lungs wanted to explode and my legs ached desperately, I felt increasingly alive, excited and optimistic, both about the mountain and the rest of my life. It was the best feeling in the world.”
Joe also wrote: “Although I still have PTSD and struggle with my symptoms every day, I’ll take that struggle, because my recovery has done something more profound than merely ‘curing’ me. It’s taken me on a journey to the very top of the world. It’s left me happier, healthier and more fulfilled than ever. Mental health crises aren’t a death sentence, but can be the start of an incredible journey.”
Amy’s Advice For Dealing With PTSD
Amy finds supporting Joe rewarding, but she is realistic and understands that PTSD is a long-term condition.
She points out that if people believe they could be suffering from PTSD – or they recognise symptoms in others – there is plenty that can be done about it.
Her advice includes the following:
- The first step is to accept that something may be wrong – denial can make matters worse.
- Sit down and talk to someone. It can be anyone – a friend, a family member – they don’t need to be an expert.
- Read some of Joe's articles.
- Look around for charities that provide support.
Finally, Amy reassures others that “things do get easier” and because PTSD is an illness, something can be done about it - it can be treated.
This article features as part of Mind Kind - a week-long series of interviews, videos, case studies, and practical tips and information on mental health and forces families, across BFBS platforms.