A former Army major turned wheelchair tennis star today told of her struggles during lockdown, as a survey revealed half of wounded military veterans have suffered “significant impact” to their mental health.
Miss Oosthuizen, 41, a former major in the Adjutant General’s Corps who served in Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, is back on the court at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton with her sights set on next summer’s Tokyo Paralympics.
But the Great Britain tennis professional, who was medically discharged in 2016 after suffering a devastating sports injury, said she hit a “slump” in mid-April when lockdown left her cooped up at home in south London
She elected for lower right leg amputation in 2018 after five years of excruciating agony caused by complex regional pain syndrome, and she has felt discomfort during lockdown as she waited to have the prosthetic refitted.
The four-time tournament champion said: “I had learnt to manage it but now the prosthetic isn’t fitting, walking has become problematic.
“I’m avoiding walking where I can and have had to adapt my physical training which isn’t ideal. I feel like I’m taking unnecessary risks by trying to manage without my prosthetic leg and have become more housebound than I otherwise would have been.”
Military charity Help for Heroes said there was a 50 per cent increase in veterans who felt they were poorly managing their mental health compared with before the pandemic.
They surveyed 1,161 veterans and serving personnel, with 40 per cent saying they had “experienced delays” to NHS services, and about half of these “had avoided seeking medical help” due to heightened anxiety.
Fifty-seven per cent of respondents said they feared their mental health was worsening as a result of being unable to access services, and 42 per cent now struggled to sleep due to their worries.
Many turned to Help for Heroes’ online support groups. Miss Oosthuizen credits her military mindset and the charity’s support for helping her stick to a routine to get through lockdown.
Melanie Waters, Help for Heroes chief executive, said: “Veterans with physical and mental health needs are finding recent events challenging and need us as much as ever. The fundraising climate for charities is tough but together we will show our veterans and their families we are still here for them.”
An NHS spokesman said: “A growing number of veterans have used dedicated NHS support to meet their needs, with more than 12,000 people who have served their country accessing specialist care.”