NPTC Group of Colleges held its annual Mental Health Conference in Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, this week. The Conference was a day of speeches and training for the College’s Mental Health First Aiders. The day’s events included Simon Weston CBE speaking about personal resilience, plus presentations from PAVO and Employers for Carers (EfC).
Simon Weston CBE’s inspiring talk and question and answer session covered his experiences as a Falklands War veteran, battles with mental ill health and addiction, and how we and the young people we work with can all find resilience in ourselves.
Weston gave the audience a brief talk about his life experiences which included video footage of his life before and after he received burns from the attack on RFA Sir Galahad during the conflict. He had joined the Welsh Guards at the age of 15 and despite his negative experiences, described the decision as “one of the best decisions I made in my life.”
He added: “I joined up because I made mistakes and was in trouble when I was younger. [Joining the Welsh Guards] gave me focus and discipline because you’re in situations where your life depends on others, and their lives depend on you.”
On the mental health struggles he had when returning home from the War, he said: “Externally I was fine…but I was drinking too much, eating too much, and it was brought on by the PTSD nightmares I was having. I was rolling around on my bedroom floor thinking I was on fire trying to put myself out.”
He had found some closure in a meeting with the pilot who fired the bombs at the RFA Sir Galahad, Carlos Cachón. To assist his recovery from PTSD, they met so Simon could look him in the eyes and talk to him; “to see if he had kind eyes.” Simon explained: “Carlos may have started my problems but he also helped finish them,” with the closure from the meeting, adding that he doesn’t hate or resent him today: “Don’t bother hating people. What’s the point? You only get injured by it every single day and it makes you a victim.”
Simon also gave an overview of other positives during his recovery, mainly his marriage, comradery with other veterans in his hospital ward, and his ability to help others through charity work. Simon is a long-standing advocate for veterans to be better supported and also discussed his recent work advocating improved treatment for those suffering from skin burns and related ailments.
When asked how our Mental Health First Aiders can make a positive impact on the people around them, he answered:
“I envy many of you, because you’ve found your relevance very early helping young people, and you are helping them even if they don’t know it yet. I like my life and I like my contribution. Your resilience comes from your contribution as well.”
Mark Dacey, Principal and CEO of NPTC Group of Colleges, went to the same school as Simon Weston CBE when they were growing up. After reuniting for today’s events, he said:
“Today’s conference has been a tremendous opportunity for our Mental Health First Aiders to engage together in a training day. This will, no doubt, impact the quality of advice and guidance we give our students.”
“We’ve had exceptional speakers today, and I must give a special mention to Simon Weston CBE. I know his story will impact so positively on the people who had the opportunity to hear him. I hope we continue with this annual event because raising issues around mental health remain incredibly important in today’s world.”
Mental Health First Aiders are a support team in the College who help signpost their colleagues and learners to professional well-being services, and handle mental health crises when they happen in work. This year’s conference followed on from a similar event last year, where referee Nigel Owens had also presented on mental ill health for the College.