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Military Minds: a safe place for soldiers coping with PTSD

There is no doubt soldiers just coming to terms with the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) need help from a mental health professional.  However, one soldier’s suffering with the disorder knows they also need the support of their peers.

With that need in mind Chris Dupee has created Military Minds – a PTSD awareness campaign run through his website www.militaryminds.ca and Facebook page. Dupee has served seven years with the Canadian Forces as an Infantry Soldier with the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, Ontario. In 2008 he deployed to Afghanistan.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can be best described as an extreme reaction to stress. It is categorized as an anxiety disorder, along with other conditions such as panic disorder, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Through social networking Chris has found a way to ‘break the silence’ about PTSD.  And his campaign to raise awareness has been effective in garnering attention.  Readers may have heard Chris speak out recently on CTV News.

The idea for the campaign developed from a series of events. Dupee ran Military Minds Power Washing business, which hired soldiers that needed to not only occupy their minds, but also provide for their families. Through Military Minds, he joined a local fundraiser to support Canadian Veterans with Canadian Country music recording artist Julian Austin. Dupee then teamed up with Paulo Rubio of Rubio Films to shoot a promo for the event and on the way back from filming, something transpired that would propel Military Minds into the path Chris is leading today.

In that first video, Dupee spoke with Rubio about how it feels to be a soldier with PTSD.  It was a candid conversation that people really responded to.

“We did that one video down by the train tracks,” said Dupee. “We did the shoot, we did everything, but it was on the way home from the shoot we started talking about PTSD.  We were talking to each other about everything, and Rubio said ‘You know what? I’m going to start filming this’. He pretty much filmed our whole conversation and we edited it that night and by morning we were ready to upload it to the Military Minds Youtube channel. It was literally a complete shift of gears overnight out of nowhere and from that, came this.

“It didn’t feel good when I put it out there,” he recalled.  “I was shy about my PTSD, talking to people about it. I wanted to throw up all day, I just stayed in my room, I didn’t even read comments that people wrote about it. But, it’s good now. I use the analogy of being naked in front of the world.  With the comments and the positive feedback about (the video) ‘Invisible Wounds’, it started dressing me again.”

In turn, people started to share their own stories and experiences with others following suit. It grew from a regular Facebook group into a support page almost overnight where people could talk about what they were going through and find out that they are not alone, and that others share the same sorts of feelings and sets of symptoms.

What makes people speak out loud and share their experiences in the Military Minds group? Dupee’s theory is that it comes down to peer interaction.

“There’s automatically that click,” he said. “We subconsciously look for the adrenaline of war, the tight camaraderie, and the jokes. Most of the soldiers that I am dealing with right now are getting out of the military or just not in the right place and it’s very easy to relate to them. All you need to say is I’m a Veteran’ and what war, and where you served.”

Social media really aids in getting the message out Chris is trying deliver. It’s helped grow his network to over 21,500 people on the Military Minds Facebook group.  And recently, his spouse Angel followed suit with her own group: Military Minds Spouses.

Dave Murphy of Thank a Soldier has been a big supporter of Military Minds.  With followers all over the world–over 78,000 on Facebook and 13,000 on twitter—Thank a Soldier has been an integral part of spreading the word about PTSD.

Twitter also brought along Military Minds’ supporter Shannon Tweed, who had her husband Gene Simmons and his band Kiss give a little something back too. In August Military Minds ran a contest that required someone to post a photo of themselves ‘breaking the silence’; the winner won six tickets to Kiss’s September 13th show in Toronto, complete with a Backstage Pass and a meet and greet.

When asked about Dupee’s best experience with Military Minds, one would think the show would be it.

“I could say the Kiss concert and Gene Simmons,” said Dupee, “but that’s nothing. The best stuff is when you know that you’ve changed somebody’s life, that you’ve made a positive impact on somebody. Ya know, that’s the meat and potatoes right there. Those are the humbling moments.”

All the positivity definitely makes a difference, but it can be a challenge running Military Minds while dealing with his own PTSD.

“Sometimes, I still almost want to break down every once and a while. I’m always asking everyone if they’re okay and how can I help.  And we help so many people but nobody asks me anymore; everyone expects that I am that solid guy. Nobody stops to say, ‘Man, are you alright?’  I’d tell ‘em: ‘No man, I’m not; what the f*** am I doing’.

“I just made a video, not even a year ago, and look at it now. In just under a year, with hundreds of thousands of posts, I was curious to know which ones were most popular with the group,” Dupee reflected. The posts that resonate with him are the posts where soldiers post a photo and their story. “Those are the best ones. We could spend a week making a video and it won’t resonate as much as a simple picture and the story to go along with it. A ‘Breaking the Silence’ story. Someone’s first kick at telling the whole world, There’s always at least a 100 comments under those, and they are all supportive.”

Dupee and his site administrators keep a close eye on the site to ward off any trolls (negativity) who may be lurking within the group. He offered a few words of advice to the comrades and friends of PTSD sufferers.

“If your buddy has PTSD, leave him alone. Don’t judge, even if the friend is supportive. Everybody is different, everybody will interpret something different. Why are some people scared of one thing? You could say the same thing about combat or any kind of tour. We all interpret things different, so you can’t say ‘Oh, I was in the same tour as that guy, and I don’t have PTSD.’ That’s not even close to being fair. The same tour, that is so broad. Even if you are in the same TIC (Troops In Combat), the same conflict as that person. It doesn’t matter; he saw it differently. He took it in differently; you can’t judge.

“Personally for me, there’s nothing that happened on my tour to Afghanistan that triggered me. There’s nothing that I regret, there’s nothing that bothers me. What bothers me is the coming home factor, the grey area.  Overseas, when you are on tour, everything is black and white. That echoes tenfold with the people that we talk to.”

The next step for Dupee and Military Minds is to get their ‘Not for Profit’ designation.

“At this point, what we plan on doing is to use this money to employ soldiers.  It’s not going to be bankrolled and thrown around on expensive trips; it’s going to be used strictly for employment. It’s always going to be for released people for PTSD reasons; to help those who need it the most, with no job and left with a lot of time on their hands. How easy is it for us to get into a dark place there? We are going to help him do the impossible and make it possible. We are going to go across the provinces and get representatives.”

At time of publication, Dupee was within a week of getting his ‘Non-Profit’ number and looking forward to what is yet to come for Military Minds and spreading awareness and breaking the silence of PTSD.

“Military Minds is a safe place for people,” said Dupee.  “It wasn’t when I started, it was nothing. When people step forward on Military Minds now to tell their story at least they know that it’s a safe place. People are listening, so we just keep talking.”

Andrea Edwards-Edwards

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Cyndi Mills - Owner | Publisher CMF Magazine

Admittedly the Queen of Typos, Cyndi Mills strives for none, but one or two always seems to slip in. She apologizes! Over the last 29 years Cyndi has had the opportunity to move around the country with her husband, Scott and their four children. Having lived in Chilliwack, Edmonton, London, and Petawawa. She stumbled into the world of journalism by accident – looking for a career that could give her the flexibility to work from home to be with her children and support her husband's military career. Cyndi is also a military parent as her two oldest children are in the military. Raising her third and fourth teenagers, she tries to keep sane by walking, gardening, writing, and spending time with her family while running Canadian Military Family Magazine.

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