“I’ve found who I am, and now I’m me and it’s amazing,” is an army veteran’s reaction after receiving help from a supported housing service as he urges others to do the same.
Trauma can come in many forms and manifest over time. For Mark Dunn the death of his grandparents who raised him and a relationship breakdown was the defining moment for him when his life came tumbling down.
Today, commemorating Armed Forces Day, he shares his experience of hitting rock bottom and provides an insight into getting the help he received to turn his life around.
Mark joined the Army aged 16, serving in the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment and doing many tours of duty around the world until he left in 2011.
“I served as Corporal and being in the Army was a great way to see the world and some amazing places such as the Amazon jungle in Belize, Kenya and Canada. I served in conflicts including Bosnia and Herrick in Afghanistan a few times. Being in the military was like one big happy family and we all looked after each other”, recalls Mark.
The 34-year-old moved back to Middlesbrough where he was raised, and settled back to civilian life working as an engineer on construction sites for a few years and then as a HGV driver.
But in 2018 his world came crashing down when his grandparents who had raised him passed away. This had a huge impact and Mark struggled to cope with his loss.
He added: “My nan and grandpa held everything in my life together, but it all fell apart when they died and I wanted to end it all. I was in hospital for a few days and it was there that I was diagnosed with PTSD, but I had to go back to work to earn a living so I put it to one side.
“Then the relationship breakdown happened a year later and I tried to commit suicide again. I was in a mental health hospital for two months then I was referred to Hardwick House by social workers.”
Hardwick House in Middlesbrough is run by housing association Riverside. The supported accommodation has 20 self-contained apartments for ex-service personnel who are homeless or at risk of sleeping rough.
“When I first came to Hardwick House I was really quiet and stayed in my room – I was a hermit and completely different person to what I am now,” reflects Mark.
“Then my support workers John and Kerry slowly helped me build my life back together again. They sorted out my disability payments along getting the help I needed. Their door was always open and I built a really good relationship with them. I now call them my mum and dad.
“I went in with the mind set to get the help I needed and get out of Hardwick House. They helped me out so much and I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for them. They pushed me when I needed it and adapted to me really well.
“I had anxiety, paranoia and suffered panic attacks and nightmares but they made sure I kept my medical appointment to get the help required, and kept in touch with me by phone during lockdown.
“I kept myself busy by learning to play the guitar, meditating and I started volunteering with a local charity walking dogs for elderly people who can’t do it themselves.”
This ignited Mark’s love of animals and spurred him on to get a pet of his own as well as an opportunity to move into his own home. With John’s help Mark found a place nearby and he moved into his house in February – closely followed by his best friend Tilly the whippet.
He added: “It’s amazing and I’ve settled in well and now I have Tilly too. It’s wonderful to be able to call this my own home.
“I now have the self-confidence to explore new things – Hardwick House helped me achieve that. I’m looking to set up a dog walking business which has given me a purpose and aspire to. My condition is managed now, but I know I can pick up the phone to John and Kerry and have a chat.”
During Mark’s time at Hardwick House he received help and support from John Glendenning and Kerry Sedgewick.
John Glendenning, Riverside’s support worker at Hardwick House, said: “Mark was in a bad place when he came here. He was so nervous and wouldn’t communicate with anyone. We slowly overcame those barriers and he started engaging with us. It’s been such a pleasure working with him.
“The dog walking has had a positive impact on Mark, it has been really good for him and he has blossomed since. He is passionate and would like to help others going through tough times, and who better than someone who has been there.”
Mark is now looking to the future with the aim of volunteering at Riverside’s supported services alongside his dog walking business.
Reflecting on how far he has come in the past few years, Mark continued: “I would say to anyone who feels there’s no way out to seek help. There is help out there – I hit rock bottom to find it. I thought mental health was a big stigma but I talked to a doctor and friends who helped me overcome that and accept the help I needed.
“I got to a point that I just broke down – I’d lost everything; my home and loved ones. I had nothing except for the clothes on my back. None of this would have been achieved and having my own home today if it wasn’t for Hardwick House. I found who I am, and now I’m me and it’s amazing. I appreciate life now.”
If you know a military veteran who is homeless or at risk of homelessness then Hardwick House can help by emailing [email protected] or call 0151 295 6701. Alternatively contact SPACES, our housing advice and placement service for veterans, details can be found here https://www.riverside.org.uk/care-and-support/veterans/spaces/.