United Kingdom

Defence Minister Johnny Mercer opens up about the trauma of watching his friend die in Afghanistan

Conservative MP Johnny Mercer has opened up about the trauma of watching his friend die after he was gunned down by the Taliban on patrol in Afghanistan.  

Speaking on the Crisis What Crisis? podcast, hosted by Andy Coulson, the former army officer - who completed three military tours of Afghanistan - opened up about his mental health struggles from a young age and the trauma he witnessed in battle.

In 2010 he was out on patrol in enemy territory in Afghanistan when he saw one of his good friends get fatally shot. He describes how he put his life at risk to retrieve the body.

He said: 'That was the hardest part - dealing with him. There is a period of time when someone is dead but they are still warm and it is absolutely horrendous. I cradled him like a baby. 

'How do you do it? You think I would like people to look after and fight for me.'

Conservative MP Johnny Mercer has opened up about the trauma of watching his friend die after he was gunned down by the Taliban on patrol in Afghanistan. He is pictured during his time in the army 

Mercer (pictured) also says that the mental health struggles of people in the military were not taken seriously enough

On managing the trauma after it happened he revealed: 'I was really really scared when I first went back out on patrol, there's something terrifying seeing someone's lights go out like that. It was a period of acute challenge for me.' 

Mercer also says that the mental health struggles of people in the military were not taken seriously enough. 

'I didn't take it seriously enough until I saw catastrophic breakdowns on the battlefield.' He says that this pushed him to make changes in government when he became a politician.  

Speaking on the podcast he also described growing up in a strict religious household and how he suffered from 'horrendous and debilitating' Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). 

He said: 'It was the hardest thing wrestling with it when I was growing up. When I look back on it now there were the nights without sleep, checking taps and lights. 

Johnny Mercer and his wife, Felicity Cornelius-Mercer. The couple have two children together 

'It was horrendous. It is extremely debilitating, exhausting and unpleasant. It was harder than anything I did in the military.'

Mercer received treatment and went through a course of cognitive behavioural therapy to deal with it, however he says that it still makes him uncomfortable talking about it now.

Mercer describes his experiences in the military in his 2017 book We Were Warriors

He added that his message about mental health is that anyone can get better and recover. 

'My message to anyone with mental health challenges is that you can get better. There's this nonsense out there that you are like that for the rest of your life if you say you are struggling. My message around mental health is one of hope.'

In the podcast he also opens up about his childhood growing up in a strict baptist household with no TV, saying it made him resilient but also increased his vulnerability. 

He says: 'I found the move from the military into politics a bit of a challenge. I find political life challenging. The way I deal with it is to maintain a strong mental balance and it is work in progress. 

'It is something you have to have the discipline and resolve to work at. But if you do you can cope with anything - the most extreme challenges.'

He also spoke about the problems he encountered during his 'chaotic' time in the army including a lack of vital equipment.

He says: 'It was complete madness. We were equipped but we had nothing like the equipment they had in the later years. My boss told me once 'Johnny just take a knife that's all we've got''. 

'I was shocked at the chaotic nature of it. People were put in unfair positions and this has had a life long impact on them.'   

Mercer has served as the Conservative MP for Plymouth Moor View since the 2015 general election. 

He is a former British Army officer and an author. In 2019, he was made a minister in the Ministry of Defence in the government led by Boris Johnson. 

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