Heartbroken parents call for mental health overhaul after veteran son takes his own life

The parents of a war hero who tragically took his own life after coming home have called for reform to mental health services.

Mum Caroline Riches called mental health services “not fit for purpose” when her son Ben Riches took his own life after his mental health deteriorated.

Ben, 30, was found dead at his home in April 2019 just five years after being discharged from the army, an inquest has heard.

Ben served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, distinguishing himself in his very first tour when he selflessly gave his last sandbag to the driver of his military vehicle which ended up saving his life.

He had joined the army at only 16 years old, serving in Afghanistan in 2010 before being discharged in 2014, when he returned home to Fleetwood, LancashireLive reports.

Speaking outside the hearing and after the verdict, Ben’s grieving father Kevin Riches, an RAF and TA veteran himself, said: “Ben was the life and soul. He lit up the room. To lose him in the way that we did – we are still trying to understand.”

Mr Riches added: “He was strong-minded. I found this is the same with everyone who has served in the forces.

“I think that is something if we’re going to move forward, with veterans’ suicide prevention, we have to persuade these people that there’s nothing wrong with talking to a GP.

“There’s nothing wrong with making that telephone call, and they will feel better when they start talking and accepting it.”

He continued: “I’ve worked a lot over the past few years with veterans with mental health issues and PTSD issues. They all have the same story; those that have come out and accepted and taken any help offered have felt a lot better.

“I’ve seen it all the time: a serving member of the military or a veteran diagnosed with PTSD, their first reaction is to feel ashamed. They feel worthless and they start to feel a burden and you’ve got to find a way. They don’t need to feel like that.”

Ben’s mum Carolyn Riches said: “Had he received some help from mental health services, it could have made a difference; he received no support from them at all.”

She said she felt mental health teams did not spend enough time with patients to get them to engage, and added: “The whole mental health service is needing reform; it’s not fit for purpose and there needs to be change. We can’t bring Ben back; what we want is change and reform.”

An inquest at Preston Coroner’s Court heard that Ben had struggled with his mental health both during and after his time in the army.

PTSD can sometimes happen because the brain resets itself to better cope with a stressful scenario, but is then unable to switch back to functioning as it would under normal circumstances.

Ben was first deployed to Iraq in November 2007, which was also his first official deployment, only for his camp to come under direct attack within just three days of him arriving.

The veteran distinguished himself in his service, with his colleagues saying that on one occasion when his platoon was surrounded the outcome would have been very different without Ben.

But Ben’s brother Steven Riches said that Ben was tormented by the thought that he had killed someone in battle, saying: “The belief that he had taken a life even though it was during battle played heavily on his mind.”

Ben’s mother Carolyn told the hearing that he “felt guilty. He started to think that this was a father – it did weigh heavily on his mind”.

A deployment to Afghanistan subsequently saw three soliders lost, one of whom was a close friend to Ben.

Although Ben achieved the rank of Lance Corporal, the promotion was later withdrawn when his mental health began to deteriorate, including starting to drink heavily and no longer taking pride in his appearance or managing his finances.

Ben’s condition appeared to improve after he was referred to the military psychiatric service, and no symptoms of trauma were recorded when Ben was discharged from service in 2014 due to hearing loss.

But after his discharge Ben’s condition once again worsened, showing symptoms of PTSD but not enough for a formal diagnosis.

On August 4, 2018, Ben was taken to Blackpool A&E after jumping into a line of traffic while under the influence of alcohol, and was discharged the following day.

Ben was sober on August 16 when he had thoughts of suicide on a beach, an incident which the coroner described as a “particularly worrying development”.

Ursula Martin, Executive Director of Improvement & Compliance at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust (LSCft), said: “We fully accept the Coroner’s findings following the conclusion of the inquest into the death of Mr Ben Riches.

“We carried out a review into the care given to Mr Riches in 2019 and have since made a number of improvements following learning from this sad incident.

“This includes the implementation of a policy and procedure to ensure any referrals of veterans are expedited, so that they are assessed as quickly as possible.

“The Trust has introduced a dedicated Veterans Team to provide specialist mental health care and support for a range of conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We remain fully committed to supporting the Armed Forces Covenant to ensure appropriate care is provided to the veteran community. We once again offer our sincere condolences to Mr Riches’ family and friends. ”