As a sufferer of PTSD for the last 19 years I have seen many changes within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) regarding knowledge and treatment of PTSD. For years I felt the best way for me to manage my symptoms was to use all my energy to hide my injury from everyone around me including at work and at home. I was unwilling to be judged harshly or have my military career threatened in any way. For ten years I suffered with extreme anger, anxiety, hyper-vigilance and insomnia needlessly all in the name of hiding the truth. I thought I had done an excellent job of keeping all this to myself but I have learned that I was completely wrong on this one. I discovered during my therapy at the Canadian Forces Health Services Clinic Pacific that my PTSD had infiltrated not only my mind body and soul, but also those of my wife and children as well as others around me. If you think you don’t need the therapy; consider getting it for those you love around you who also suffer.
It should not surprise anyone to know that PTSD occupies a great deal of head space within an injured person and can twist a day’s events into something very dark and chaotic when suitably triggered. We knew very little about PTSD two decades ago and the stigma surrounding it was so powerful it kept many veterans from even mentioning any experienced difficulties during annual medical examinations. In short, we were terrified of losing our military careers and future. I believe we have come a long way from those times but stigma still permeates the military culture preventing the healing of our veterans. The only way we will heal those veterans is if they are able to access good care without any barriers including the impact of stigma. This is hard and takes solid leadership and understanding at all levels.
For those suffering with PTSD or think they may be, the best thing to do is to talk with a health care professional as soon as possible. It must be understood that having an Operational Stress Injury or OSI like PTSD is no longer the “kiss of death” to a military career. If a veteran seeks help early when symptoms are just starting, this is when some therapy can stem the onset of PTSD that if left unattended could lead to a full blown PTSD.
The Outward Bound Veterans Program and the Veterans Transition Program are two other excellent peer centred programs that can really help a reluctant veteran to see for themselves that care can come in many forms; it doesn’t always have to start with a professional clinician. It is hard to change the military culture surrounding this injury but we must all persevere if we are to win this battle. Leaders in this regard need to step forward to get help and then help others to do the same. They will be amazed at how good life can be again once the healing has occurred.
I have learned through therapy that it was my family that knew for sure I was injured long before I thought I was. They were fearful to say anything to me and didn’t know where to turn to help themselves. When veterans are at home they are more likely to exhibit PTSD symptoms as the “armour” they wear all day at work has been removed.
If you are a spouse or partner to someone who you think is suffering with an OSI, I suggest you speak with them about your concerns. Mention it to them when they are not hyper aroused or angry. Bring it up when everything is calm and be truthful about how their behaviour impacts you and life in the home. Be non-confrontational and let them know you are concerned for them. Tell them you think they should seek some care at the Health Services Clinic as you are concerned for them and want them to be well. Do not be surprised if they don’t go along with this at first but I encourage you to be persistent with the message.
As a family member there is guidance and direction available at local Military Family Resource Centres across Canada. Don’t be afraid to ask for confidential advice as their staff may be the exact resource you will need to convince your veteran loved one to seek care. There are support groups as well through the OSISS organization for both veterans as well as family members dealing with PTSD or other mental health issues. The MFRC is a great place to start looking for possible answers to your family’s issues.
Slowly things are getting better with the management of PTSD in the home. It is my firm belief that an open and honest conversation between the veteran and spouse will eventually lead to better coping and vastly improved communication and health within the military family context. Please seek help today.
By :Chris Linford LCol