• Carmen Marie Fabio

Duo soldiers on to raise awareness for PTSD


PHOTO BY CARMEN MARIE FABIO

On a cross-Canada mission to raise awareness of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Jason McKenzie (centre) and Steve Hartwig (right) make a stop in Vaudreuil-Dorion with driver Bosco (just Bosco) Friday, August 22.

A cross-Canada walk to promote awareness for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) saw its two participants passing through Vaudreuil-Dorion last Friday, August 22, on the way to their final destination of St. John’s, Newfoundland. “Our intention, in this march, is to erase the mental health stigmas in society,” said Jason McKenzie, “so we can start discussing it openly and talk about getting better care.

We’ve been through the system so we know where to improve and want to be a part of that improvement. Beginning June 23 in Victoria, B.C., lower mainland resident and former member of the Canadian Forces Steve Hartwig was joined by fellow CF member McKenzie from Buena Vista, Saskatchewan, a friend he met in training and went on to serve a tour of duty with in Yugoslavia from 1992 to 1993, a tour that would leave unshakeable memories.

“It took me years to actually get help,” said Hartwig of his experiences in what has been described as Europe’s deadliest conflict since World War II. “I thought I could deal with it myself, I thought it would just go away, I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol and violent behaviour.”

Eventually recognizing the counter-production that anger, hatred, and bitterness towards government agencies, including Veterans’ Affairs, had on his ultimate recovery, Hartwig instead chose to replace the anger with communication and wants to spread that idea to others in the same boat. “With mentoring, (the healing) can be much quicker,” he said. “Individuals need to spin their wheels until they get it, whereas mentoring in a peer and setting is more successful.”

Like the disorder itself, treatment is not a one-size-fits-all solution and while various programs exist, myriad road-blocks often fall in the way of timely intervention, including mental readiness on the part of the sufferer. “The issue with a lot of Veterans, we find, is there are three stages; the individual, the organization, and the government. If the individual doesn’t want care, nothing’s going to get done.” Hartwig and McKenzie had praise for Canadian Forces approach to PTSD and mental health related programs, citing them as exceptionally good.

“The problem with their model is they’re withheld by the privacy act from promoting it.” And while existing programs may be good, the waiting time for access can be prohibitively long and the duo says further delays are encountered by individuals who initially agree to attend programs then back out, due to either fear or denial. “The onus is on the individual to start the healing process,” said McKenzie. “You can’t force someone to heal and a big part of raising awareness is to reach those individuals.”

While some old-school attitudes towards the disorder still exist within the military, the pair said they’ve seen changes in basic training in the Canadian Forces that include PTSD and health-related instruction on the initial signs and symptoms. “Especially with combat soldiers going into a combat environment, it’s a health-related issue for everyone.” Though the team aims to keep expenses as low as possible, costs incurred include fuel, food, and repairs, particularly following the loss of a trailer wheel in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan that needed a $1500 repair. The duo is also accepting donations with the goal of establishing a foundation at the end of the walk to help raise not only awareness but to foster a concept of acceptance of PTSD as well as removing the associated stigmas.

And as interest in their initiative grows, they’re exploring how to add care services to those suffering PTSD. “It’s not about us being in front and leading people,” said Hartwig. “It’s about everybody walking together, side by side. It’s a combined action creating an open dialogue between individuals, organization, and the government. For more information or to make a donation, consult www.intonomansland.com or https://www.facebook. com/groups/intonomansland/

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