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Ex-soldier thanks Changing Minds Kent in Westgate for 'saving his life' after glass attack and triple heartbreak leaves him with PTSD

Stuart Taylor was, you could say, your average 30-something squaddie.

In the forces since he was 16, he had travelled the world as part of the Army Catering Corps, had a wife and child, another on the way and was working towards promotion to Sergeant.

Stuart Taylor suffered a series of tragedies which left him with mental health problems
Stuart Taylor suffered a series of tragedies which left him with mental health problems

But a brutal glass attack, which almost killed him, signalled the start of a heartbreaking series of events, including the tragic death of his toddler son, a divorce and his discharge from the Army.

The devastating blows all happened within just two months, sending him on a spiral downwards as his mental health deteriorated.

It is only now, and thanks to Changing Minds Kent in Westgate-on-Sea, a community interest company working to improve people's mental wellbeing, that he has finally turned his life around.

But it's not been easy.

Stuart, now 58, and living in Thanet, has faced traumas most people can't even imagine yet he was only recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, more than 30 years after that initial incident which sparked a descent into alcoholism.

"I was an ex-squaddie, people think 'you're hard', so I didn't ask for help..." - Stuart Taylor

The dad-of-four, who was temporarily based at Howe Barracks in Canterbury, had gone to the pub for a drink on December 6, 1987, but woke up in intensive care at the Kent & Canterbury Hospital.

He had been glassed in the neck by a fellow squaddie.

"I died three times - I had 45 stitches outside, 15 inside and I had a trauma stroke because of it," he said.

"I was medically downgraded (by the Army), I wasn't going any further - I couldn't get my sergeants - and I was in and out of hospital."

For two years he battled on, but in January 1990 he and his wife divorced, their toddler son who had been ill since birth died aged 22 months and in the February he was discharged from the military due to the trauma stroke caused by the attack.

"If if it wasn't for Avondale Care and Changing Minds I wouldn't be here..." - Stuart Taylor

"That's when I went off the rails," he said.

"I hit the booze. Because I was an ex-squaddie people think 'you're hard' so I didn't ask for help for years even though my mental health was deteriorating.

"My life was just up and down, I'd say I was an alcoholic from 1990, getting myself in and out of scrapes.

"I should have been caught (by health authorities) when I left the Army, but I wasn't, it was 'off you go'.

"You fight for Queen and country and then you're out. I'd been to the Falklands. I saw my mates die by a landmine, all these other things had happened, but no-one thought about that then."

Stuart Taylor with Colin Rouse from Changing Minds Kent
Stuart Taylor with Colin Rouse from Changing Minds Kent

Stuart remarried and had three children but his now ex-wife asked him to leave due to his drinking.

Moving from place to place around Thanet, drinking two bottles of vodka and three litres of cider a day, on top of medication, he was a lost soul.

Then nine years ago, he was helped by The Beacon Centre in Ramsgate, which provides support to people with mental health problems.

It was through there he got involved with Avondale Care and Changing Minds Kent.

The organisation offers support, training and a safe place for people to improve their mental wellbeing through its social inclusion club in Westgate.

Grenville Lodge is where the organisation's social inclusion club is held
Grenville Lodge is where the organisation's social inclusion club is held

It's aim is to inspire, educate and reduce the stigma around mental health.

Stuart stopped drinking after seeking help at Avondale and then Changing Minds and hasn't touched a drop for five years.

"It's somewhere to come to, your mates are here, it's safe and secure, so once you're here you feel safe," he said.

"We've done lots of trips, there's art, there's games and we can relax. If if it wasn't for this place, I wouldn't be here. I would have been on that downward spiral again."

Stuart also helps other members, offering peer support to people who are struggling with mental health problems.

"Because I was helped when I was an alcoholic it's me giving something back," he said.

He admits life is hard for ex-military servicemen and women coming into civvy street.

"I'm lucky I've got this place (Changing Minds) otherwise I wouldn't be here," he said.

Changing Minds and lives

The organisation which helped Stuart Taylor get back on his feet is working on an ambitious plan to improve the mental wellbeing of people living in Thanet.

Offering support for people with a range of needs, from anxiety, depression and psychosis, to stressed-out workers and exhausted parents, Changing Minds Kent wants to reduce the stigma of poor mental health and empower communities.

The not-for-profit group, which is Thanet Extra’s charity of the year for 2019, already runs a social club in Westgate Bay Avenue, providing services for those in need, which is set to be modernised and re-named The Lodge.

Changing Minds also runs sport sessions, trips and provides prevention projects, support and training, such as in mental health first aid.

Companies can also access two-day wellbeing retreats for employees, based at Howfield Manor country house in Canterbury, through the organisation.

Colin Rouse, Director of Growth and Development at Changing Minds Kent
Colin Rouse, Director of Growth and Development at Changing Minds Kent

Colin Rouse, director of growth and development, says they want to be accessible to everyone and become the biggest not-for-profit mental health wellbeing programme in Kent.

“We want to create waves - not just in Thanet but across the county,” he said.

“By delivering these services, we aim to support anyone and everyone, reduce the stigma that often surrounds poor mental health and provide a positive support service that will impact people’s lives.”

To see more of what they do visit www.changingmindskent.co.uk/

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