A FORMER soldier from Barrow has spoken out about the difficulties he faced in revealing his sexuality while serving in the army.

Phil Riding has described his experiences in a bid to raise awareness about mental health problems.

The 27-year-old joined the army in August 2007 at the age of 16 partly to get out of his home town. He'd faced homophobic bullying at school and thought a "macho" role in the infantry would help mask the fact that he was gay.

"I was living with these guys seven days a week, and I started copying how straight men moved. My body language was super-exaggerated to be manly because I was trying to fit to this image of who I wanted to be in my head," he said.

Mr Riding left the army in October 2015 and took up a job as an events manager for a nightclub in London.

The following month while attending a Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph a bugle sounding The Last Post acted as a trigger and unleashed the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which had been brewing inside him since his time in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For Mr Riding it wasn't just the shots fired at him which affected his mental health. It was the guilt he felt for his colleagues who had been injured or killed.

He recalled: "There was a task to go out and do some metal-detecting. We played a game of rock paper scissors to decide who should go on patrol and who should stay behind. I won the game. He went out and was shot in the ankle."

In another incident a driver who took his place while he was on a rest day ended up driving over an Improvised Explosive Device and was left needing reconstructive surgery on his spine.

"Shouldn't it have been me? Shouldn't I have gone on patrol?" he asked.

As well as contending with his recent diagnosis of PTSD earlier this year Mr Riding had to deal with the death of his mum.

After his mum Stephanie was told she had just months to live Mr Riding and his teenage brother Konnor launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the money to pay for her funeral.

She passed away in February aged just 50.

His relationship with his mum wasn't without its problems, not least as a result of his sexuality.

In 2011, when Same-Sex Marriage Bill was passing through Parliament, Konnor asked if he would get married. His grandmother then said she wouldn't attend the wedding if so and his mum followed suit.

"There was an argument, and I wish that I had handled it better," he said. He left home on Boxing Day.

He has now bravely spoken out about his experiences in a bid to encourage other former and serving members of the armed forces to be more aware of their mental health.

"It's one of those urban legends. We simply didn't talk about mental health to each other so I didn't know. I wish I had known sooner," he said.