Joe Winch is a Royal Marines commando who turned to the mountains to reduce the impact of his PTSD, a condition which followed multiple combat tours in Afghanistan. He began climbing in the Alps two years ago, stood on top of Denali in Alaska last year and reached the summit of Everest in May 2019.
Read his incredible story.
At an altitude of over 8,700 meters in strong wind and temperatures of -20° Celsius, we covered the last few meters to the summit together, arm-in-arm and shoulder-to-shoulder.
Lieutenant Colonel Royal Marines
YEARS OF SERVICE | 17
TOURS | Service worldwide, including in Northern Ireland and two tours of Afghanistan
CLIMBS | Alps, Norway, North America, Himalaya. Summited Denali in 2018 & Everest in May 2019
PTSD | Diagnosed complex PTSD in 2017. Currently in recovery
Discover more, click here
LOCATION Nepal / China border
HEIGHT 8,848m. The highest mountain on Earth, Everest penetrates the stratosphere
FIRST SUMMITED 1953 by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary
WIND SPEED Commonly 100 mph at summit
TEMPERATURE January average -36° Celsius. July average -19° Celsius
AIR PRESSURE 1/3 of that at sea level, resulting in severe oxygen reduction
CLIMBING SEASON Spring and autumn
DAYS TO CLIMB Expeditions take around two months
Mental health, PtSd & the military
“For those veterans whose last deployment had been
in a combat role the rate of PTSD was 17%”
WHAT IS PTSD?
"The human response to psychological trauma is one of the most important public health problems in the world. Traumatic events confront people with such horror and threat that it may temporarily or permanently alter their capacity to cope, their biological threat perception, and their concepts of themselves. Traumatised individuals frequently develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a disorder in which the memory of the traumatic event comes to dominate the victims' consciousness, depleting their lives of meaning and pleasure. Recent developments in neuro-imaging and other fields of the neurosciences have highlighted the complex interrelationships between the psychological, psychiatric, biological, and neuroanatomical components of the disorder.
"The diagnosis of PTSD is characterised by three major elements:
• The repeated reliving of memories of the traumatic experience. These tend to involve intense sensory and visual memories of the event, which are often accompanied by extreme physiological and psychological distress.
• Avoidance of reminders of the trauma. Detatchment and emotional blunting coexist with intrusive recollections. This is associated with an inability to experience joy and pleasure, and with a general withdrawal from engagement with life.
• A pattern of increased arousal is the third element of PTSD. This is expressed by hypervigilance, irritability, memory and concentration problems, sleep disturbances, and an exaggerated startle response. Hyperarousal causes traumatized people to become easily distressed by unexpected stimuli. Their tendency to be triggered into reliving traumatic memories illustrates how their perceptions become excessively focused on the involuntary seeking out of the similarities between the present and their traumatic past. As a consequence, many neutral experiences become reinterpreted as being associated with the traumatic past."
IS THE MILITARY COPING?
"The vast majority of veterans leave the Services with no ill-effects.
The Ministry of Defence and the four health departments in the UK have together sought to improve the care available. We welcome this and recognise that there have been tangible improvements. Despite such improvements, there is no doubt that some serving personnel, veterans and their families are still being completely failed by the system.
"For those in service, fear for their careers remains a key barrier to seeking help: even if they do, it is unacceptable that the quality of care received is not always up to standard.Furthermore, it is a scandal that in an NHS budget of over £150 billion UK-wide, less than £10 million per annum (0.007%) has been allocated to veteran-specific mental health services.
"Even when specialist care is available, such services are clearly swamped by the scale of demand, leading to some veterans having to wait up to a year for treatment.
"Many of these veterans see their conditions deteriorate further whilst waiting for access to treatment and, in the most extreme cases, they take their own lives whilst awaiting help.
"It deeply concerning that the MOD is not consistently providing the quality of mental health care to its Service men and women that they deserve."
Already by the two-week point into the two-month journey I was so exhausted and rundown that I developed a chest infection that very nearly compromised my expedition. But with the support of my team, some good medication, and the stability I was able to create once we arrived at Base Camp, I started to recover, and by the end of April I was feeling much stronger. By the middle of May I felt more than ready for the mountain.
We were all experienced mountaineers. We had climbed in the Alps repeatedly, and we had successfully summited Denali together in the summer of 2018 – enduring temperatures well below -20° Celsius and one of the worst storms on the mountain in over a decade.
"Waking at 04:00 hours began one of the longest days of my life. Here on the Lhotse Face - a 1,500-meter wall of steep sheer blue ice - the air was desperately thin and even the smallest moves left us gasping, slowing us to a crawl. Time was against us."
part 2. coming soon
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Royal MarINES CHARITY
This article has not been produced in official association with any charity, however the Royal Marines Charity offers one of the best and most comprehensive support networks for Royal Marines suffering with any mental health diagnosis - both serving and retired. If you need help or would like to give support, please click the relevant button below.