Much travelled Michael Gleeson has served his country and overcome both physical and mental health issues to realise his lifelong ambition of pursuing higher education.
Michael (63) from Liverpool served with the Parachute Regiment for 16 years, rising to the rank of Sergeant Major and working as an instructor to train recruits and officers, as well as heading up leadership and promotion courses. A high-pressure role, his responsibilities also required counselling and project management – skills he will utilise in his Counselling and Psychotherapy studies at Edge Hill.
“I learned a lot about leadership, which was priceless on operations,” said Michael. Often we would be in an environment where there was no phone or contact with home. You had to have solutions, so you soon learned to be a problem solver. A father figure to some, an inspiration to others, but always an approachable person people could talk to.”
He overcame the physical trauma of breaking his back on a night jump during his military career, which included serving in far-flung destinations such as America, Canada, Australia and Africa (“where I stood down a leopard on a night patrol,” laughed Michael,) before finding employment with the civil service at the end of his Army career, following an added spell as a reserve – when he found himself acting as a warrant officer in charge of training for troops being deployed to the Middle East.
However, he sometimes struggled with the relative ease of life away from the forces environment and the unique humour of the frontline, unfulfilled without a new challenge to pursue.
“I missed the camaraderie and teamwork. The skiing, the travel, the climbing, the expeditions, the fencing, the off-shore racing. Learning to think before I speak was probably my biggest challenge, but I would also always advise people to ask for help, don’t be proud.”
Like many of his Army colleagues, Michael was diagnosed with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and has been reliant on the support of friends and family, as well as local charity Veterans in Sefton, which is staffed by ex-forces personnel.
The only charity of its type that offers holistic care programmes through mentors and counsellors, they recognise the unique help and support people from a forces background require.
“They understand the culture,” he said. “I have seen so many people afraid to even come into the building. I have walked over and chatted to them to persuade them come in -sometimes they might have been outside for an hour. Within minutes they are feeling at home within an environment and people they feel safe with.”
As well as addressing the needs of those suffering with PTSD, the charity also offers help and support to people struggling with addiction or experiencing housing issues. Michael’s voluntary work has afforded him many opportunities to promote the charity’s work, including speaking at conferences raising mental health awareness, and liaising with local police forces about dealing with serving and ex-service personnel struggling to reintegrate into society.
“The policy has saved lives and given the police an insight into mental health issues within the service community. I have also been given the opportunity to discuss issues with local MPs and councillors, which was interesting,” he said.
Although there has been a rise in the reporting of mental health issues, particularly among males, and a raising of awareness focusing on suicide prevention, Michael believes more can be done to educate the public in their perceptions of the illness, particularly on UK television.
“You still see dramas where it seems every veteran is portrayed as a gun wielding maniac waiting to explode on the public. It’s not the image I see when I am dealing with veterans. But in the community, it seems it’s still not seen as okay to talk. It’s seen as a weakness.”
Michael’s background and involvement with ViS brought him into contact with The Brunswick Boys Club, a location with a unique history in helping young Merseyside people in Bootle and the surrounding areas.
“It has a great history and is currently run by Keith Lloyd, who was a ‘Brunny’ boy himself. It was an idea thought up by three soldiers when they were prisoners of war towards the end of the Second World War, aimed at giving young people a chance of a good start.”
Away from his voluntary work, Michael is grateful for the support he has received from the inclusion team at Edge Hill university.
“They really helped me as I wasn’t in a good place, and I thought I’d made a mistake applying. They went out of their way to help, signposting me to different departments who could help me on the first steps of my journey. I received a lot of support and they still contact me regularly to see how I’m getting on. The coaching I was given was invaluable.”
Michael was selected for an Entrance Excellence scholarship in 2018 – being awarded £2,000 towards his studies. Find out more about applying for a scholarship here.
Click here for more information about studying for a degree in Counselling & Psychotherapy.