Johnny Pawlik has witnessed firsthand just how damaging the effects of PTS can be.
Both his father and grandfather were adversely affected by their experiences in the military – his grandfather did five tours of Northern Ireland in the army, and his father was a fighter pilot in the RAF during the 80s.
“My grandfather was on the front lines in the Scottish army, and was certainly never the same again after the horrors he saw,” explains Johnny.
“It affected every part of his life, and he turned to all kinds of negative things to try and dull the pain. It was all too much for him, and he died young, in his late 50s.
“My dad fared better, but he also faced challenges as a result, struggling to adapt to civilian life.”
Even Johnny’s grandmother, his dad’s adopted mum, was a victim of PTS, having watched her entire family shot dead in front of her at Auschwitz concentration camp during the second world war.
“She died when I was quite young, and I remember her as not always being very nice – she could be very vocal, brash and aggressive. It’s only now, as an adult myself, I can begin to understand what she was dealing with. She never spoke about what had happened to her in Poland. That generation didn’t really talk about things, of course.”
And it’s this that Johnny – who is the MD of Mantra Media, a digital marketing agency that he launched in his home-city of Sheffield in 2015 – is working hard to change. His company was recently elected to head-up #StandTall4PTS - an international campaign that ran in Australia throughout this year’s Invictus Games. The campaign seeks to recognised and highlights the needs of those suffering post-traumatic stress.
“We’re careful to say PTS, and not PTSD,” says Johnny, aged 34.
“Because once you put a disorder in the title, people don’t want to talk about it. PTS is a lot kinder on the psyche.”
After a chance meeting with the campaign’s founder – Vietnam veteran and former Australian cricketer, Tony Dell – last year, Johnny and his team were invited to join the campaign, recently heading down under for a month, joining a military convoy of former military personnel and Invictus athletes. Together, the ‘Lightning Bolt II Invictus Convoy’ travelled over 4,500km through four Australian states and territories, hosting awareness days, civic receptions, and memorial ceremonies at more than 20 towns and cities, including Canberra and Melbourne. The team also carried a large Invictus Games flag to collect signatures and messages from MPs and celebrities along the way before presenting it to Invictus competitors on the final leg of the convoy in Sydney.
Johnny’s Sheffield team, which includes his brother, and Mantra’s director, Jason, handled all the digital marketing for the event, including social media and live 24-7 streaming via website and Facebook, reaching more than a million people during the three-week tour.
Jason adds: “We spoke to hundreds of people every single day, online and in person. At times it was hard, you had to be very emotionally resilient, but it was very rewarding. People told us the #StandTall4PTS campaign recognised their pain and let them know they matter.”
Johnny agrees: “Time and again we met people who voiced their appreciation for us travelling to bring this message to them. They told us how much it meant to them, how they finally felt like they’d been given a voice, and the validation they felt in knowing that somebody was listening.
“And this wasn’t just former military personnel. We heard from a number of first responders who have struggled with things they’ve seen over the years, the number of bodies they’ve pulled from wreckages. Nobody thinks about the help they may need.
“We also spoke with the Invictus athletes travelling with us, who told us about their journeys, and the impact that the Games have had on their self-esteem and quality of life.
“The campaign was so personal for everyone involved, and really highlighted that the UK can learn a lot about ways to improve veterans’ quality of lives, especially when we spent time in the Returned and Services League, which are complexes devoted to social engagement of those that have served.”
And since returning to the city, Johnny and Jason have been delighted to learn that Sheffield will host the first ever national games for British wounded, injured and sick veterans and personnel next July.
“We were thrilled to hear the news, just a couple of weeks after we got back. We did wonder if it was just a coincidence that we’ve spent all this time working with Invictus athletes, and then we discover the trials are coming to Sheffield,” Johhny laughs.
“Either way, we'll be there in the front row to welcome them all.”
Visit standtall4PTS.org for details.