WITH a medicine ball handcuffed to his wrist for the past two weeks, it’s fair to say Sergeant Andy Unwin has been a peculiar sight in Fareham.
But it’s a burden the proud Afghanistan veteran has been happy to bear – as it signifies a cause close to his heart.
The dad-of-three has been hauling around the 3kg weight everywhere he goes, day and night, to show the hidden weight that plagues those battling post-traumatic stress disorder.
And now, as his stint with the weight comes to an end this weekend, the 15-year army veteran has spoken out about his effort, which has raised more than £1,100 for two charities.
The 37-year-old said: ‘Not all wounds are visible. You can go on operational tours and pick up injuries or lose limbs. That’s tough but people can see what’s happened to you
‘But lads with PTSD come back and they’re still fighting a hidden war, one in their mind.
‘I went to Afghanistan which was quite a kinetic tour – we expected to lose people out there.
‘But since coming back, some of my friends have taken their own lives. That really stuck with me.
‘These are guys who survived the war and were meant to be at peace at home. But for them, that war never ended.
‘A guy in my section out in Afghanistan took his own life in Estonia a few weeks ago. That’s tough to stomach.’
Sgt Unwin served with the Yorkshire Regiment in Afghanistan. He is now an instructor with the Royal Military Police at the Defence School of Policing and Guarding,in Southwick.
He hoped his effort will inspire others to speak out about mental health.
He said the medicine ball – named ‘Wilson’ as a tribute to Tom Hanks’s island companion in his 2000 Hollywood blockbuster, Castaway – has caused quite a stir everywhere he goes.
He added dealing with his daily life, with the ball in tow, was tricky.
‘It has been really awkward carrying it around all day,’ he said. ‘Every task becomes difficult – and that’s the whole point.
‘When you’re battling mental health, every little task become huge challenges. Things that were once easy like shaving become a major effort.’
Sgt Unwin hopes his effort will raise £1,500 –cash which will be split between Combat Stress and the Army Benevolent Fund The Soldiers’ Charity.
But he said the key message of the fundraisers was to encourage people with mental health to talk to others and to not be afraid of seeking help.
‘A lot of people in the military are too proud to talk about - there is still a stigma around it mental health,’ he said.
‘My last operational tour was about five years ago. When I got back, my wife definitely saw a difference in me. I did suffer with anxiety. I’m okay now – I sought help.
‘But some people don’t know what avenue to go down and suffer in silence. Don’t do it.’
Sgt Unwin said he will be continuing the medicine ball challenge after his final day on Sunday.
Several other veterans have already agreed to take over control of ‘Wilson’ – including Afghanistan veteran and triple-amputee Andy Reid.
Soldiers in America and Australia have also expressed an interest in being part of the fundraiser.
To take on the challenge, email Andyunwin01@hotmail.co.uk