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Fergal Keane fronts PTSD documentary

Fergal Keane reporting from a war zone
Fergal Keane reporting from a war zone Image credit: belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Fergal Keane fronts a new BBC documentary highlighting his diagnosis of PTSD which traces back to his time being a war correspondent, in particular his coverage from the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

In Living with PTSD Keane shares how the condition has affected his lifestyle since being told he was living with the illness in 2008.

He spent over 30 years reporting from war zones where he witnessed “the worst of human cruelty”, despite his diagnosis we see Keane setting off once again to cover the invasion of Ukraine.

Keane went public with his PTSD in January 2020 after being diagnosed thirteen years ago with the condition when he was on a psychiatric ward.

At the time he was “too tired to be ashamed”.

In the documentary we see Keane refusing to research his condition, “I wanted to keep it at arm’s length. Why? Because I wanted to keep doing what I was doing. I wanted to keep going to the wars,” he tells the camera.

Talking about living with PTSD Keane says: “it’s a place of extreme fear”.

“Fear of nightmares, where I wake up and I’m under a pile of bodies, or in my dreams I see animals devouring human corpses.

“In daily life it’s as mundane as sitting in a room where someone is trying to do the dishes and flinching, saying, ‘Can’t you hear how loud that is?’ and them looking at you, ‘no’, because nobody hears it as loud as I do in my head.”

We see Keane visiting Milltown Cemetery in Northern Ireland where the bodies of nationalists and republications lay, killed in the Troubles – the war which first spurred him to start covering such horrific conflicts.

Despite the forgetting and upsetting scenes the adrenaline which comes from reporting wars has never made Keane look away.

He says: “But nothing anybody could have said to me at that time would’ve stopped me.

"Had they come along and said, ‘You know, in 30 years’ time mate, you’re going to be going into hospital with a mental breakdown from trauma’, I wouldn’t have believed them.

“You have to put yourself into my head, in my 20s, and that was somebody who suddenly felt this sense of purpose about what he was doing.

“Because I think we all want to be told that we’re worthwhile, that what we do is worthwhile.

“But I wanted it more than most. And that’s the trauma of course of not having it as a child.”

Fergal Keane: Living with PTSD is on BBC TWO, Monday May 9 at 9pm and available afterwards on BBC iPlayer.