March 8, 2022 12.54 pm

Ukraine crisis triggers traumatic thoughts for Lincoln veteran

“The therapy I’ve been having has saved my life”

A woman from Lincoln who served in the Royal Navy for five years says seeing the news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has “triggered thoughts” and sent her back to places she “never wanted to think of again”.

Nicola Crooks lives with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), which develops from exposure to multiple traumatic events.

The 51-year-old is one of many who have been receiving treatment from the Veterans’ Complex Treatment Service, which is part of the St Andrew’s Healthcare Community Partnership Service. It is designed for veterans from the Midlands and East of England, who require a more intensive care and treatment approach.

It has now been over a week since Russia invaded Ukraine and attacks have been intensifying on key cities, leaving Nicola feeling very unsettled.

She said: “The news of Ukraine is everywhere. It’s on every radio news bulletin and everywhere on the TV – you can’t get away from it and I’ve found it has triggered thoughts in my head, and has sent me back to places I never wanted to think of again.

“The therapy I’ve been having has saved my life and I am so grateful for it – but recent events have set me back a bit.

“You will always live with CPTSD but in my therapy I am learning how to navigate life and certain triggers in a better, manageable way, but at the moment it’s been overwhelming and increasingly difficult.”

Perry Devlin, a clinical liaison nurse with the Veterans’ Complex Treatment Service, says Nicola is not alone with how she is feeling right now.

She said: “Although many of us will feel it is important keep up to date with the events happening in Ukraine right now, it’s important to recognise and be aware of the potential impact this may have on you if you served in the armed forces. It might be having an impact that you are not even aware of.

“It’s hardly surprising that seeing these upsetting images of war on our TV will affect those who have served. I recommend trying to avoid watching the news for a few days and acknowledge your feelings, even if the emotions are challenging.

“Have a chat about how you’re feeling with someone you trust and practice your self-care, making sure you put your wellbeing first, and if that means reaching out for some professional support then do it.”

The service provides a a range of intensive care and treatment for people with military-related complex mental health difficulties. Attendees are supported by a military-aware team who develop a personalised care plan – see more information here.

Nurse Devlin has also issued the following advice for veterans who may be struggling right now:

  • Eat well, get outside, put your phone down, connect with people, rest
  • Remove yourself from triggers so that you can practice mindfulness. Try to get yourself into a place where you can be in the moment – that could be taking part in some exercise or sport, or going for a walk with someone or walking the dog
  • Focus on self-discipline around the things that work for you. Make time to take a lunch break or arrange to meet up with friend one day – and to make sure you do that
  • Avoid doomscrolling – the act of spending an excessive amount of time consuming negative news. It’s something we often do when faced with uncertainty, but instead of filling in the gaps with useful information, we can end up catastrophising
  • Be conscious of the sources of information you rely on. Only use trusted news sources, focus on facts rather that alarmist speculation and don’t engage with graphic content
  • Feeling a range of emotions right now is a completely normal human response – and it is ok to feel anxious, stressed, helpless, triggered. Watching the suffering and not knowing what will happen next is likely to trigger a fight or flight response in many of us – so the coping strategies in the advice are to help reduce the impact that this is having on day to day life, and ensure that our normal human response doesn’t become so overwhelming that we can’t function