Navy told me to use a mental health app after I lost my eye and my career, says former technician

Elliott Courtman
Elliott Courtman was desperate to continue with his career in the Royal Navy after the fateful accident - Elliott Courtman/SWNS

A Royal Navy technician whose career was ended when he lost his eye in an accident was told by military medics to download a mental health app when he looked for support.

Elliott Courtman, 27, had his life turned upside down in June 2020 when a helicopter antenna “skewered” his eyeball as he tied the aircraft to the deck of the flagship carrier Queen Elizabeth.

After the accident, Mr Courtman pursued legal action against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and eventually secured a settlement for his injury, his lawyers said.

And he is now calling on the Government to do more to support Armed Forces personnel who have suffered this sort of trauma while serving the country.

Mr Courtman, from Chichester, Sussex, said: “Initially, I thought I must have cut my eyelid open. I had a big cut across my face – but I didn’t even consider it could have been my eyeball.

“I tried to take my contact lens out but I couldn’t, but everyone around me kept reassuring me that it wasn’t that bad and I’d be fine.

Life changed in a split second

“However, when I got to the hospital and the specialist looked at my eye, that’s when I knew. The look on his face told me everything I needed to know. My whole life had changed in a split second.”

Mr Courtman had completed the task which derailed his life many times before, but on this occasion, he was suffering from significant fatigue – having worked eight-hour shifts for more than 50 days without a single day off.

The antenna which impaled his eye also had no protective foam cover – something which has become mandatory since his accident.

Surgeons initially tried to sew the eye back together and Mr Courtman was able to return to work wearing an eye patch in the hopes that he might regain his sight.

However, he later suffered a serious infection, and was forced to have his eye removed in December 2021.

Elliott Courtman in uniform before the accident
Elliott Courtman was making good progress in his military career before the accident ended it - Elliott Courtman/SWNS

The effect on his depth perception meant senior officers had no choice but to medically discharge him – bringing an abrupt and heartbreaking end to his Navy career.

“It was absolutely devastating,” he said. “Up until this point, my time in the Navy couldn’t really have gone any better.

“I was promoted to Leaving Hand as fast as it was possible to be – and won Best Recruit twice. Everything was going great. Then all of a sudden my life changed. I lost my career.

“Before this, I was one of the most confident people you could meet. But I lost all that. I felt totally trapped.”

Mr Courtman went on: “In times like this, you really need someone at work looking out for you, for someone to say: ‘Take some time off – you’re not OK.’

“But that didn’t happen. I went to a very bad place through trying to pretend everything was all right, but really, I was far from all right.”

When it became clear he could no longer serve in the Navy, Mr Courtman suffered another hit to his mental health, but says he found the support he needed wasn’t there.

On one occasion, he was simply advised by medics to download an app.

He said: “I think there needs to be recognition from the MoD that we need support – particularly after something like what happened to me.

“I was just told to download a mental health app which could help me – but I thought: ‘My eye has just been skewered. I’m not sure that’s really going to work.’

Navy culture is part of the problem

“There is a culture in the Navy where you just get on with things, crack on with your job, and that’s part of the problem.

“Young men who experience trauma probably don’t know what to do – and that’s why proper support is so important and really needs to be there.”

The MoD would not comment on Mr Courtman’s case but said it works hard to “ensure the safety of everyone who serves”.

A spokesman said: “We work hard to ensure the safety of everyone who serves. Where there is proven legal liability, compensation is paid.

“It would be inappropriate to comment further on an individual case.”

Natasha Orr, Mr Courtman’s lawyer and military team leader at Slater and Gordon, said: “After being through such unimaginable trauma, it is imperative that our service personnel are supported mentally as well as physically – but that is something that is still being neglected.

“Ambitious, driven, young sailors like Elliott want to get back to work as soon as possible, even after something as horrific as this, but clearly that is not always in their best interests.

“Our Armed Forces have a duty of care to our servicemen and women, and that must extend into protecting them psychologically too.”

Ms Orr, who also comes from an Armed Forces background, helped Elliott get access to therapy and private medical treatment – and secured him a settlement from the MoD.

She said: “We are very pleased to have been able to secure the treatment and therapy Elliott so badly needed – and to secure a settlement which will support him and his family through what remain difficult times.”