By David Saunders, Health Editor | UPDATED: 08:28, 26 June 2020
A former soldier, who served on active duty in Belfast and Bosnia, has become one on the first to take advantage of Duncan Bannatyne’s offer of free membership for veterans living with PTSD.
46-year-old Darren Parker, who lives in Sheffield with his wife Carly and dogs Skyla and Dexter and has two children 17 and 19 from a previous marriage, has lived with PTSD since his return from Bosnia. He has suffered with panic attacks, night terrors, security anxiety, hyper vigilance, anger issues, hallucinations, OCD and suicidal thoughts.
Darren joined the Army in 1989 and had postings in Newcastle, Catterick, Germany and Canada. He was injured by a coffee jar bomb in Belfast, but it was the horrors of Bosnia that took their toll on him. He was witness to numerous atrocities, killings and ethnic cleansing that has left its mark permanently etched into his conscious.
Darren said: “The things I saw in Bosnia no one should see, women and children killed in front of us for being the wrong faction. Men and boys taken away and slaughtered in shallow pits. The smell of dead bodies all around. Almost being shot on a number of occasions. It ruined my army career and I felt I had no choice but to leave and seek medical help in civvy street, always with the intention of returning.
“But when I left, the symptoms intensified, and I found myself having 15-20 panic attacks a day. At the time I knew nothing about panic attacks and thought I was having heart attacks. I was deprived of sleep and would be hallucinating all the time.
I was constantly angry and would often shout and abuse people around me. I struggled for years to come to terms with my condition and had to rely on coping mechanisms, as there was very little support for my condition. In 2017, the coping mechanisms finally failed, and I found myself on the bridge over the M1 at Dodworth.
Although this was a terrible situation the intervention of a total stranger, gave me hope.”
Darren, who is a member at the Bannatyne health club in Barnsley, works as a business growth coach at the world’s number one coaching company and is in the last three months of an MBA, received support from Combat Stress, South Yorkshire Police and Project Nova delivered by Walking With The Wounded and RFEA – The Forces Employment Charity, to get himself back on track.
Darren continued: “I now try and raise awareness by offering help and advice on my own experiences of PTSD. I have become an advocate for Project Nova and often speak to veterans about coping and support. Talking always helps and I also like to listen.
“I am inspired that there are people like Duncan Bannatyne who actually care about veteran’s welfare because believe me, our Government could do more. Post MBA, I would like to work with veterans in the transitional stage from the forces to civvy street and help them settle back into that life they know nothing of.
“Fitness has always been part of my coping mechanisms over the last 20 plus years, but now I have started at Bannatyne’s, I have found a new level of focus. The equipment and facilities are amazing, and the staff are so friendly. It helps me relax and focus on my day ahead. I have also got my wife to join as a member, so we can experience it together.
“I can honestly say that if I got the opportunity to speak to Duncan, I would be super grateful to him for reaching out to the veteran community, which he is part of, and shake his hand looking him dead in the eye and thanking him. Without his generous offer, I would be struggling to remain focused, or even worse. He is one in a million and a personal thank you would be the least I could do.”
Duncan Bannatyne gave his backing to the Sunday People’s Save Our Soldiers campaign and offered hundreds of free memberships for veterans with PTSD, with every one of his 72 health clubs taking part.
Duncan, 70, told the Sunday People: “I truly believe our armed forces are the best in the world. I think they do an amazing job and the bravery that comes with doing the job they do is outstanding.
“If I can help in a small way such as giving a free membership to help combat PTSD, then I am more than happy to do that. It is something that is very dear to me.”
Duncan’s dad William endured three-and-a-half years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the Second World War and was starving to death before liberation in 1945.
William, an infantryman in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, had been captured while fighting Japan’s invasion of Malaya and Singapore in 1942.
Duncan said: “My father was somebody who did not really talk about his time as PoW. However, over the years I did get bits out of him and when I hear what he endured it makes me so proud to have seen how brave he was.”
Duncan’s military background is one of the reasons he feels strongly about the plight of troops with PTSD.