BY LINDSAY BRISCOE
Every year, as we approach Remembrance Day, I always think about my grandpas and the other older men I’ve known over the years who served in war. Their stories and memories remain near to our hearts. As I get older, though, I tend to think about my younger friends and family who have served overseas in one capacity or another. Two of them come to mind, in particular. They’ve gone and come back and are moving on with their lives but their stories and their wounds are still fresh. They came back from war as different versions of the same people.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, PTSD is an anxiety disorder by which a person relives a psychologically traumatic situation through nightmares and flashbacks, well after any danger has passed.
Not all veterans have PTSD, and it’s a different experience fore each person who does, but there are many typical symptoms. People with PTSD tend to experience emotional numbing and avoid situations that might remind them of the traumatic event or “stressor.” Some enter dissociative states during which they believe they’re reliving the event, sometimes for days. Insomnia, difficulty focusing and aggression are also common.
As someone trying to understand from the outside, it’s difficult to imagine what living with a mental illness like PTSD is actually like. Many of us have gone through traumatic events and have been able to come through the other side without any serious issues, which makes it even more difficult to understand why others can’t just learn to cope. I’ve been close to a few people in my life who have opened up about their own mental illness – including PTSD – and the one thing they all pointed to as hurtful or otherwise damaging is when the people they’re closest to tell them to just snap out of it. If snapping out of it was that simple, the illness wouldn’t be an issue in the first place. Mental illness is caused by chemical imbalances beyond the sufferer’s control.
Statistics tell us that PTSD affects about 10 per cent of war zone veterans (including peacekeeping forces), and about eight per cent of the over all population, but there is very little data on PTSD in our country.
In May of this year, the federal government announced $375,755 to fund a two-year study to gauge how effective the use of cognitive processing therapy is in patients with PTSD. At the same time it launched the PTSD Coach Canada mobile app to help PTSD sufferers – particularly veterans – cope with their symptoms. I suppose the app is geared toward younger people (I don’t know how many of our grandfathers will turn to their iPhones and Blackberries for help), but I still question how effective it actually is.
And I must mention that in the fall of this year, the same government turned around and closed nine Veterans Affairs offices from one coast of Canada to the other. These offices were places where hundreds of our veterans found comfort. Many of them developed strong ties and a high degree of trust with therapists they had been meeting with in person for years. There is no way a computer can offer the same level of help.
Our military personnel risk their lives overseas, but when they come back to their home country, they don’t always get the support they need and deserve. Our government needs to commit the funding for PTSD research and support effective, efficient treatment.
And at the same time, education and awareness is key. We’ve certainly made progress in talking more openly about mental illness like PTSD, but we still understand and cope with physical illness better. The more we talk about mental health issues, the easier it will be to combat the stigma attached to them, the more compassionate and empathetic we’ll be toward the people who have them, and the quicker they’ll be able to get back on their feet.