Tuesday, October 27, 2009
RAF mental health nurse Warrant Officer Mark Woodhead is coming to the end of a three-month deployment to Helmand province where he has been helping treat soldiers exposed to acute stress.
WO Woodhead is one of the leading specialists in operational mental health within the RAF. He is normally based at Selly Oak Hospital where he lectures on the subject.
His job in Afghanistan is to assess and treat any soldiers that may be suffering mental health problems.
This can either be at the hospital in Camp Bastion or, where possible, he will travel to a Forward Operating Base (FOB) to meet a patient.
While at the FOB, WO Woodhead will also provide briefings to soldiers and their commanders on mental health issues and how the soldiers can identify and deal with the issues at platoon level.
WO Woodhead explained:
"We see people who have experienced traumatic events. We give them time so that they can settle down so that we can work with them to get them back to their unit as soon as possible.
"If you can identify a problem straight away, it gets dealt with sooner and helps the soldier get better quicker and helps the soldier stay with his unit. We help the soldier develop skills and strategies for dealing with the stresses they may encounter. These skills are transferable to their life outside theatre."
It was a busy summer for the British forces on the ground and consequently a busy summer for WO Woodhead. He said:
"We arrived at the start of Operation PANTHER'S CLAW; we needed to hit the ground running. It was an extremely intense operation and the British forces were heavily engaged.
"We were getting a significant referral rate from acute stress reactions caused by what the soldiers had been involved in. Only a very small percentage didn't return to their units.
"The high point for me is when guys come in and say thank you and then go back to their unit. That thank you means so much; especially when they first come in they may feel totally broken."
WO Woodhead joined the RAF in 1993 and has previously seen operational service in Bosnia in 1998, the Middle East in 2000 and 2001, and in Iraq in 2005.
Summing up his tour at Camp Bastion, he said:
"It has been a mixture of busy, exciting and sad. I'd like to think I have contributed to helping individual soldiers get back on their feet and get back on with their job."