A former policeman who was left suicidal by PTSD after a samurai sword attack says his life has been saved – by photography.

Paul Williams, 60, has told how his life changed forever after a "traumatic" event in which he had to protect himself and four others, with just a can of pepper spray, against a mentally ill woman brandishing a sword.

The event left soldier-turned-officer Paul suffering with PTSD, and battling "almost constant" suicidal thoughts, unable to even spend time with his own family.

County Times: A short eared owl hunting for food on the Isle of Portland, Dorset. Pic: Paul Williams/SWNS.A short eared owl hunting for food on the Isle of Portland, Dorset. Pic: Paul Williams/SWNS.

County Times: A kingfisher in Stirling, Scotland. Pic: Paul Williams/SWNS.A kingfisher in Stirling, Scotland. Pic: Paul Williams/SWNS.

But after years of psychotherapy treatment, Paul, who now lives in Powys, took up wildlife photography – and says it provided a "window of hope".

Now, Paul is set to appear on BBC's Great British Photography Challenge - with his story set to air on national television on BBC Four tonight (Monday, June 14) at 9pm.

The programme sees Paul, and six other photographers, being mentored by legendary British photographer John Rankin Waddell, to take part in a string of 'out of their comfort zone' photo challenges.

Dad-of-five Paul said: "It's a complete dichotomy for me as I'm happiest in those hard-to-get-to, wild spaces, devoid of people.

"When I was chosen from the thousands who'd applied I spent a lot of time weighing up the stressors that accompany a process like this one, with the huge opportunities such a prestigious show presents.

County Times: Female hummingbird in Cornwall. Pic: Paul Williams/SWNS.Female hummingbird in Cornwall. Pic: Paul Williams/SWNS.

County Times: A puffin with a beak full of fish on the Farne Islands, Northumberland. Pic: Paul Williams/SWNS.A puffin with a beak full of fish on the Farne Islands, Northumberland. Pic: Paul Williams/SWNS.

"I made the decision to participate knowing it would be tough on my psyche, and it was but I have no regrets.

"It was an incredible experience that tested me personally, psychologically and photographically.

"I gave it my all and I hope this shows through during the four episodes."

Paul, who is now also a mental health advocate, said that prior to his illness he often perceived himself as an 'alpha male', having served as a career solder in the military.

After leaving the military, he gained a First-class honours in clinical mental health nursing, and worked as a senior mental health specialist in assertive outreach.

Then, at the age of 40, Paul decided on a complete career change and joined the police.

But in 2010, his life changed when he was faced with having to defend himself and four others against a mentally ill, samurai sword-wielding woman, using only pepper spray.

His mental health rapidly declined after the event, and he said: "The dark times were very dark.

"I had an almost constant desire to commit suicide – particularly when I’d accepted the diagnosis of PTSD, as I then knew that my career, and life as I knew it, was over.

"Much of this time was spent avoiding family, friends and colleagues to the point that I essentially became a recluse.

County Times: Orange full moon in Monmouthshire, Wales. Pic: Paul Williams/SWNS.Orange full moon in Monmouthshire, Wales. Pic: Paul Williams/SWNS.

"Not great when you have five children who need you, and don’t understand what’s going on.

"Part of my problem was emphatic denial that someone 'like me' could ever get a mental illness. It took me nearly three years to fully accept it."

However, Paul eventually experienced a breakthrough with a new psychotherapy treatment called eye movement desensitisation reprogramming.

He said: "It gave me a small window of hope that I could improve my symptoms and stop trying to kill myself.

"I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, around the same time, I picked up my camera and began taking images of the wildlife in my garden."

Paul found that photography gave him an incentive to get out, and he discovered great satisfaction from sitting in still, quiet spaces, waiting for wildlife to appear.

He said: "Gradually, I began to enjoy the time with nature more, and made an increased effort to seek it out.

"But this was still to the detriment of human contact - a situation that exists to this day in some shape or form."

County Times: A hoverfly behind a leaf in Dorset. Pic: paul Williams/SWNS.A hoverfly behind a leaf in Dorset. Pic: paul Williams/SWNS.

But when one of Paul's photos - of a trio of Lorton owls peeking out of a knot in a tree trunk - caught the eye of the Dorset Wildlife Trust, he was inspired to start sharing his photography more widely.

And the move motivated him to put himself forward to take part in the Great British Photography Challenge.

He said: "I regarded this as a pivotal point.

"For the first time since becoming unwell, I had a role, and something to fill the vacuum left by loss of career, self identity, and my abilities as an effective father."

Prior to the pandemic, Paul also released his first photography book, titled 'Wildlife Photography: Saving My Life One Frame At A Time'.

The book comprises breathtaking wildlife images that tell the story of his journey to recovery through nature, and developing his photography as a real art form.

In the book, Paul combines practical help and information about photography with insightful commentary about his mental wellbeing.

It charts Paul's journey from rock bottom to finding himself again, among stunning landscapes such as Dorset, Cumbria, Northumberland and Scotland.

Paul says: "Looking back, I now know that finding the motivation to take these images when I was so unwell were important first steps on the road to my recovery.

"International travel is still particularly hard, as I struggle in busy places like airports, and absolutely hate sitting in a plane closely surrounded by people I don’t know.

"But once I’ve reached these wild places, I’m in my element, as they are usually devoid of people and I get so much out of the challenges that capturing hard-to-find wildlife involves."

He added: "The pandemic has been a dreadful event for humanity, and my heart goes out to anyone affected by it.

"But someone takes their life every 40 seconds, with many more making a serious attempt to kill themselves.

"That, for me, is something of a hidden pandemic that's been going on for millenia.

"The GBPC offered me a huge platform to get my message out that there's hope after even the most dark days.

"If I stop just one person from taking their life then the stress I went through during filming will be worth it.

"I've now moved back to Wales where my ancestors are from. It's been a tough move, but I'm now surrounded by birdsong, the wind on the trees - and zero neighbours!

"Life still has many challenges, it does for most of us, but I'm happy to be alive and very much looking forward to creating a wildlife haven in the woods and land I'm now custodian of.

"If you're struggling with your mental health please ask for some help. Saying you're not alright isn't a weakness, it's a sign of strength. Trust me on that one."

Paul's book is available on Amazon for £17.46 by clicking here. Great British Photography Challenge screens on BBC Four tonight at 9pm.