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World Mental Health Day: "Paragliding makes me feel free from my demons"

In response to recent research that one in four people are affected by mental health problems the Fund has launched a Listening and Counselling Service providing confidential emotional support to those in the RAF Family who may be affected by various mental wellbeing difficulties. As today marks World Mental Health Day, we hear from Paul, 52, who has a rather unusual pastime to help with his anxiety.

I joined the RAF in 1983 as an Aircraft Electrical Mechanic and at the same time enrolled as a part-time volunteer for the Mountain Rescue team at RAF St Athan.

In 1988 I was posted to RAF Valley.  Firstly working on Hawk servicing, then full-time Mountain rescue and finally with 22 Squadron Search and Rescue, which was my dream job. Throughout my time in the RAF I was an avid mountaineer, completing many expeditions to Nepal and South America and so my job really suited my adventurous lifestyle. 

World Mental Health Awareness Day

After 10 years of service I decided to leave the RAF to pursue a career in the civilian world and in truth my years working with Mountain Rescue had taken its toll on me and I needed a change. I'd simply had enough of life's bad experiences and the events I had witnessed.

I first flew a paraglider back in 1989, it was a very different sport back then and it's probably fair to say, extremely dangerous. I think that was probably part of the attraction, the risk element. It also fitted in nicely with my mountaineering activities. Paragliding is very special to me, it makes me feel free from my demons when I'm flying. There is nothing quite like hanging from a paraglider just below the clouds.

I first heard about the RAF Benevolent Fund when I signed up for the Service Days Pay Giving. I had a rough idea of their work but truthfully, I never imagined I would need their support.

Last year, the Fund offered me support in the form of funding for my own paraglider as part of my continued recovery. For me, paragliding is very much therapy, I'd be lost without it but unfortunately the equipment is very expensive. I recently took part in my first paragliding competition and was thrilled to win in my category, something I wouldn't have been able to do without the support from the Fund.

I think the wealth of support that the Fund offers both serving and ex-serving personnel is wonderful. Times can be tough for veterans but it is reassuring to know that support is available from charities such as the RAF Benevolent Fund. They understand the pressures that the RAF Family face and I can honestly say they have given me a sense of belonging again.

To find out more about the services that we offer to members of the RAF Family who may be affected by anxiety or depression please visit our wellbeing page.

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