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Features | 25 Jun 2021

The story behind Sapper Support: ‘We just didn’t want to lose another friend’

The Sapper Support charity runs a 24/7 Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) crisis helpline staffed solely by veterans and 999 personnel. Founder, Tim Evers, tells us more about the charity's new PTSD lanyard, the specialised training it offers businesses, and how Vodafone has helped them grow.

Tim Evers’ passion and urgency for the cause of PTSD support is clear from the moment you speak to him. And as a former bomb disposal engineer in Bosnia and now a firefighter for the past 25 years, he knows about stress more than most.

“PTSD is a sleeping giant – there are up to four million veterans in the UK, and we know 1 in 4 people will be affected by depression at some point,” says Tim.

“It’s not just former soldiers, it’s emergency services workers, victims of crime. There are so many.”

The scale of the issue led the charity to launch a new PTSD lanyard to coincide with Armed Forces Day 2021  on 26 June. The lanyard aims to help victims of PTSD identify themselves in moments of crisis, whether they find themselves in a busy shopping centre or a stressful airport queue.

As former forces we know the lingo, the feelings you go through

Also offering free training to any business or public service in the UK, Sapper Support aims to equip people with the knowledge they need to understand and help someone with PTSD.

PTSD Lanyard
The lanyard is available on the Sapper Support website

 

‘We know the lingo’

It was the tragic death of a friend and fellow ex-Sapper – Army slang for Military Engineer – that first prompted Tim and friends into action in 2014.

“A friend of mine killed himself, and at that time there was no veterans’ helpline – existing support like The Samaritans or Accident & Emergency just couldn’t relate in the same way.

“As former forces we know the lingo, the feelings you go through. Things like survivor guilt. We just felt that we had to be there somehow.”

As word spread, the number of calls from “other badges” saw Sapper Support expanding beyond the army to support emergency service workers who had also experienced traumatic incidents.

Today almost 90% of Sapper Support helpline volunteers work for the emergency services.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events. Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.

These symptoms are often severe and persistent enough to have a significant impact on the person’s day-to-day life.

As demand grew, the charity realised they needed to upgrade from the “cheap mobile phones” which had first helped them launch the service.

Vodafone has a long history of supporting military-related causes and recruiting former service members, including for its business cyber-security team.

Senior Engineer and fellow former Sapper, John Lowe, who also leads the Vodafone Armed Forces Network Charity arm, saw an opportunity.

“When we came back from an intense tour of duty we were made aware of Sapper Support, and the name stuck with me. When I met Tim and heard how they’d grown, I knew we could help.”

John and the Network campaigned to set the charity up on Vodafone Storm, a technology platform normally reserved for businesses with large customer contact centres, often with thousands of employees.

“This is scalability they can’t outgrow,” John says with a smile. Benefiting from a lifetime discount, the team has already secured funding for the first three years, with plans to run the helpline for free indefinitely.

‘It’s OK to ask for help’

Reflecting on the Sapper Support journey, Tim can’t quite believe how much the charity has grown.

“First, we were just five ex-engineers on phones, then we were for all armed forces, then the emergency services. Now ew have the PTSD lanyard.

“We want to get people in the mindset that it’s OK to ask for help.”

Behind this commitment to helping others, the memorial page on the Sapper Support website stands as a reminder of the pain, felt by too many families in the UK today, that first sparked Tim into action.

More than 80 veterans took their own life last year, as well 20 serving soldiers, according to charity Veterans Against Suicide.

“Sapper Support is here to help people today, before they get to the point where they break,” says Tim.

Find out more and donate to Sapper Support.

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