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International Men’s Day: Two soldiers’ stories

Today is International Men’s Day and, to help spark conversations about male physical wellbeing and mental health, two soldiers have shared their experiences of their own uniquely tough challenges.

Sergeant Adam Sefton, 36, is a mental health campaigner and single dad who escaped an abusive marriage and took permanent custody of his sons.

In July this year Adam was selected as a Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games baton bearer in recognition of his dedication to supporting the welfare of Army reservists and his work to raise awareness of men’s mental health.

Adam joined the Territorial Army in 2004 after originally signing up to the Army full-time aged 16. He has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, after completing a three-year full-time reserve service posting in Warminster where he was trained as a Challenger 2 crewman working on his regiment’s main battle tanks.

Adam serves with The Royal Yeomanry as the regimental engagement mentoring support officer for two West Midlands squadrons. He is responsible for pastoral care and employer engagement, overseeing recruits’ journeys from civilians to trained soldiers.

He works with a local community organisation, Tough Enough to Care, which aims to challenge the stigma around men’s mental health.

In 2021 Adam won the ‘Ask me if I’m really Okay’ award at Dudley Council for Voluntary Service’s Kindness Awards. His nomination for the award highlighted how Adam’s support has helped to positively change the lives of others.

Like many people I have good days and bad days. But there is always help out there for whatever might be stressing you out or causing you problems. Lieutenant Colonel Tim Osman

Adam says,

“As a squadron we try to make everyone feel welcome when they join and help new recruits to find a purpose and support them throughout their Army Reserve careers.

“Learning how to support others in terms of mental health and wellbeing are aspects of my role I have developed whilst I’ve been at the squadron. I see this as a normal part of my role.”

Lieutenant Colonel Tim Osman, 46, was diagnosed with Young-onset Parkinson’s five years ago. This variation of the neurological disorder affects people aged under 50 and its prevalence is rising with two people diagnosed every hour.

Tim, from Southampton, joined the Army, aged 21, in 1998.

He deployed to Afghanistan for six-month operational tours with his regiment, The Royal Artillery, in 2008 and again in 2014.

After Tim turned 40, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. But, thanks to support from the Army’s occupational health team, the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Stanford Hall in Nottinghamshire, and the Royal British Legion’s Battle Back Centre in Lilleshall, he has continued to have a full and effective military career.

There have been tough times over the last few years, especially when Tim’s wife, Caroline, had a severe accident while walking on Dartmoor, badly breaking her leg. Helping his wife while managing his own illness led to Tim taking several months off work to combat the fatigue and depression that emerged. But the couple came through these dark days, supported by their children Isla, 16, Harry, 14, and Zach, 12.

Tim will be taking time off from his official duties in May next year when he will cycle the 874-mile distance from John o’Groats to Land’s End to raise funds for Cure Parkinson’s, a charity searching for ways to slow, stop or even reverse the disease.

Rugby is Tim’s biggest sporting passion. He coaches Tottonians rugby team in Southampton and was recently appointed head coach for the Army Rugby Union men’s team.

Tim’s advice, after his experience battling Parkinson’s, is relevant to all men struggling with physical or mental problems:

“Like many people I have good days and bad days. But there is always help out there for whatever might be stressing you out or causing you problems. Try and eat well, exercise well and don’t be afraid to talk to other people.”

To mark International Men’s Day, a wide range of events are being organised for military and civilian personnel across Defence. These include a panel on detoxifying masculinity, a light-hearted session looking at the inner workings of the male brain and a ‘Testicles, spectacles, wallet and watch’ event where personnel will talk about their own physical and mental health experiences.

International Men’s Day and Movember are a chance to focus on how men’s wellbeing and mental health can be improved.

Male suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50, with men aged 50-54 having the highest suicide rate.

An annual mental fitness brief is now mandatory for all Defence personnel. The brief covers the most important aspects of developing and maintaining good mental fitness, including stress management, how to transform stress into mental resilience and where personnel can get help.

​Chief of Defence People, Lieutenant​ General James Swift, said: 

“International Men’s Day celebrates the value men bring to their work, their families and communities. It’s a chance to have conversations on the wellbeing and mental health of men and boys, and for men to talk about what they may be feeling or going through. It’s just as important to look after our mental health as it is our physical health and it is okay not to be okay – help is there for anyone who needs it.”