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Press Releases 28 December 2020

Singer-songwriter Judith Owen Talks Resilience and Adversity with injured Army Veteran

Singer-songwriter Judith Owen has shared how she coped with the clinical depression and anxiety that blighted her life in a revealing conversation with a wounded army veteran.

The pair spoke about the challenges of their dark moments in the latest episode of the Resilience Sessions, which bring together members of Blesma, the limbless veterans, and public figures in an inspirational podcast series.

Judith, who partnered Ruby Wax in the acclaimed Losing It cabaret show which confronted mental health issues, described the hour-long podcast with Stephan van Niekerk as ‘moving, entirely uplifting and cathartic’.

The 58-year-old’s childhood was corroded by her mother’s long-running depression and suicide when Judith was just 15-years-old. She found an escape in music and became a celebrated singer but struggled with her own demons.

The turning point came when she was diagnosed with clinical depression, anxiety and PTSD, from what she experienced as a child, and started to deal with her issues.

Judith, who is married to actor Harry Shearer, the voice of Mr Burns and Principal Skinner in The Simpsons, said: “My husband stood by me through the worst stuff. I don’t know why he didn’t run for the hills. I don’t understand it except that he loves me so much and he sees who I really am underneath all of this.”

She added that the diagnosis gave her a ‘tangible’ impetus to deal with the issues and told the podcast: “It still took me a long time to really take it in and get out from years and years of self-loathing. There was looking back and ‘if only’ but it was the greatest release of my life.’

Stephan, 36, lost both legs and seriously damaged his left hand when an IED exploded during his second tour of duty in Sangin Province, Afghanistan, with 3rd Battalion The Rifles in 2009. His best friend, Corporal Tom Gaden, had been killed earlier that year.

Then 25-years-old, he was second in command of a patrol in a remote region when disaster struck. “It's like the sound of lightning going off and I couldn't see a thing. I couldn't hear anything for a split second,” he said. “It was just dust smoke, the smell of burning in the air, and for a split second, I didn't realise it was me.”

Stephan, who is originally from South Africa but later settled in Somerset, said he could feel his ‘life draining into the earth’ as he waited for the helicopter rescue, but added: “I was thinking ‘hang on, I can't be another statistic. Tom died out here. I'm not going to die out here. I've got my wife at home. I've got friends, family’. Then the survival instinct kicked in.”

Stephan rehabilitated well physically but the psychological trauma was still dislocating his life and he said: “It got to a point where I started pushing people away. That feeling of guilt that I can't be the person I was before; the expectation was too much to have to be a certain way. I knew that I was broken but I couldn't tell people this.”

His wife Sadie encouraged him to seek help after the birth of their first daughter and the counselling helped ‘clear the mists’.

Judith and Stephan spoke about the parallels in their lives of finding a way to open up through therapy and face issues from their entire life.

The Resilience Sessions, which are featured on the Samaritans wellbeing app, grew from the Making Generation R campaign, which trained members of Blesma to tell their incredible stories of overcoming adversity to 100,000 front line workers, first responders and young people.

“It was empowering to hear Judith and Stephan, people from very different walks of life, share their experiences and how they dealt with their trauma and came through the other side,” said Jon Bryant, Blesma’s chief executive.

Alice Driver, founder of The Drive Project which devised the programme and presenter of The Resilience Sessions, added: “The podcasts are inspirational. You feel like you are part of the conversation between individuals who have been through tough challenges but have come out the other end and are able to talk about how they did it.”

The Resilience Sessions podcast is featured on The Samaritans wellbeing app for Veterans and is being used as a wellbeing resource for NHS staff.

The series, with a new episode every Tuesday features NASA astronaut and Commander of the ISS Steve Swanson, singer and comedienne Judith Owen, Chief Fire Officer and psychologist Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, and former SAS officer Billy Billingham MBE, who stars in the hit TV adventure series Who Dares Wins

Listen to the podcast here:

Watch the podcast here: The Resilience Sessions YouTube Channel