Bodyguards David Budd could be about to save more lives
Warning. This article contains spoilers.
When six weeks of nail-biting, nerve-jangling, tension reached a head in the finale of BBC drama Bodyguard, it wasn’t with a bang.
Instead, it was with the silent weeping of the bodyguard himself, ex-forces man David Budd, admitting his battle with PTSD with the words: “I need some help.”
This moment of calm recognition and resignation, after all the thrills and spills of an explosive storyline is one that could save other people.
It’s a bold claim, but it comes from someone who would know – 33-year-old Army veteran Chris (he preferred not to use his surname) who was diagnosed with chronic PTSD, meaning he will have it for the rest of his life.
“It’s very difficult for those who haven’t experienced PTSD to grasp how it affects people,” he told the BBC.
“But from the first episode, it hooked me, and I thought ‘that’s bang on’. The goal for me was to watch to see if he went to get help. I’d sit there, going ‘go on mate, just do it’.”
He described Richard Madden’s portrayal of Budd as “phenomenal”.
“The difficult thing is admitting you need help,” said Chris. “So what you do is throw yourself into something else – nine times out of 10 that will be work – to stop your brain going into overdrive. That’s exactly what David Budd does, focusing 100% on his job.”
We don’t see what in Budd’s Army career brought about the PTSD he carried through into his police role, where he was assigned to the home secretary as her bodyguard.
But Chris says we don’t need to.
“It’s the after effects we see that are so recognisable,” he said. “People I’ve spoken to with PTSD, you nod and say ‘I do that as well’. Most people will have the same symptoms.”
And so what of the moment Budd goes to see the occupational health specialist?
“The hardest thing that I’ve ever had to deal with in terms of mental health was asking for help, just walking through that door,” he said. “You sit down and the emotions all come out 10-fold.
“We see David crying and emotionally breaking down. And that’s exactly what happened to me. I was watching, thinking ‘that’s good, you’ve got to get it out’.
“Having the courage to get help is really scary. You’ve been in a never-ending spiral of things going wrong, and then you say you need help and everything seems to stop. Things start going in the right place.
“I know people will have watched and said, ‘that’s what I need to do’. And that’s priceless.”
What is PTSD?
- Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by stressful, frightening or distressing events
- People with the condition often experience the event again through flashbacks and nightmares
- Other symptoms include problems with sleep and concentration
- Events that can cause PTSD include: violent personal assaults including sexual assault; military combat; road accidents; witnessing violent events, and natural disasters
- It can develop immediately after the disturbing event but can also occur many years later
- PTSD is thought to affect one in every three people who have a traumatic experience
For Chris, that moment of admitting needing help came in 2015 – two years after leaving the Army, and eight years after returning from Iraq in December 2007 – by going to charity Combat Stress.
“I don’t think I would be here, living, if I hadn’t been to Combat Stress. I know people who haven’t got help and are no longer with us,” he said.
“If someone sees Bodyguard and gets that message of ‘if you need help, get help’, it could be life-changing – it could potentially be life-saving.”
Dr Manveer Kaur, senior clinical psychologist at Combat Stress, said Bodyguard writer Jed Mercurio steered clear of stereotypes.
“The classic Hollywood portrayal of PTSD shows someone having flashbacks,” she said. “It’s a terrible symptom and can be debilitating. But in reality, we see a whole range of symptoms.
“And that’s what we’ve seen on Bodyguard. He’s startled in his sleep by the home secretary, he has hyper vigilance and is always scanning, always looking around. He has moments of zoning out.
“Sometimes he drinks to cope with the stress and in one poignant moment, he contemplates taking his life – which we know does happen with veterans.
“He shows people live with these symptoms for a long time and can be highly functioning. They describe wearing a mask – and only those closest see the cracks in it,” Dr Kaur said.
Combat Stress says, on average, it takes 13 years from leaving the military for a veteran to seek help for mental health issues.
The charity gets more than 2,000 referrals from former servicemen and women every year- a 97% increase from 10 years ago.
Dr Kaur said it’s been really important to see someone talk about these issues on such a popular drama, watched by millions.
“Having something on our screens for the past six weeks, to such a wide audience, will help people come forward – showing you can be strong, but still struggling.”
Emma Carrington, a counsellor who works as an advice and information officer for Rethink Mental Illness, said the perception of male mental health issues had long been an issue.
“I find the words ‘man up’ very toxic,” she said. “The best way to man up is to talk about your emotions.
“Anything that raises awareness, like Bodyguard, is good.”
She advised anyone needing help to:
- “Go to your GP – I realise it’s scary, but you can take someone you trust with you, and you might find it helpful to make a list of symptoms.”
- “Alternatively, instead of going through your GP you can use the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, which is free as part of the NHS.”
- “Talk to your employer – many have employee assistance programmes now.”
Patrick Rey, campaign director at PTSD Resolution said it was important to remember that it was a minority of people who had served in the military who would experience PTSD – but that it was equally important for those who do get it to get help.
He said sometimes it could be a partner or relative who realises someone does not seem themselves, for example, having nightmares or drinking too much, and stressed that help is free.
The Ministry of Defence said: “We take the mental wellbeing of our serving and former personnel extremely seriously, and we encourage anyone struggling to come forward and access the care they deserve.”
A 24-hour helpline is available for serving personnel, with veterans encouraged to contact the NHS and get support through Veterans’ Gateway.
All six episodes of series one of Bodyguard are available on BBC iPlayer in the UK for another five months.
If you are feeling emotionally distressed and would like details of organisations which offer advice and support, go online to bbc.co.uk/actionline or you can call for free, at any time to hear recorded information on 0800 066 066.
Read more: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-45629815