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John Conrad’s Among the Walking Wounded and Adam Montgomery’s The Invisible Injured explore PTSD in Canadian soldiers

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John Conrad’s Among the Walking Wounded and Adam Montgomery’s The Invisible Injured explore PTSD in Canadian soldiers

Post by Guest on Fri 23 Jun 2017, 15:05

John Conrad’s Among the Walking Wounded and Adam Montgomery’s The Invisible Injured explore PTSD in Canadian soldiers

Special to The Globe and Mail (includes correction)
Published Friday, Jun. 23, 2017 9:27AM EDT
Last updated Friday, Jun. 23, 2017 2:29PM EDT

Among the Walking Wounded: Soldiers, Survival, and PTSD

By Colonel John Conrad

Dundurn, 232 pages, $24.99

The Invisible Injured: Psychological Trauma in the Canadian Military from the First World War to Afghanistan

By Adam Montgomery

Barry Westholm didn’t know what was wrong with him. He couldn’t focus, he couldn’t remember things, he couldn’t sleep. He was frequently anxious. Medical tests revealed no physical ailments, so as a coping mechanism, Westholm completely devoted himself to his work. He “soldiered on,” as the saying goes – a fitting mantra for Westholm’s vocation as a military vehicle technician.

It was 2007 before Westholm finally got a diagnosis for his continued psychological difficulties: post-traumatic stress disorder. The event that had triggered Westholm’s PTSD was a confrontation with a very angry mob during one of Westholm’s deployments. During the incident, Westholm had considered shooting himself with his sidearm rather than being hacked or burned to death. Fortunately, before things degraded to that point, reinforcements arrived, dispersed the mob and evacuated Westholm. The nightmares started soon after.

This wasn’t Afghanistan. It was Haiti, mid-nineties, and Westholm was deployed there as part of a United Nations multinational stabilization operation. This vignette is the first of many in Adam Montgomery’s The Invisible Injured, and traces the crucial (and in many cases incomplete) development of mental-health awareness in the Canadian Armed Forces.

In recent years, mental health has become a prominent topic of public conversation. Various observances occur nationally and internationally – there are designated mental-health days, weeks, even months. One of the biggest objectives of mental-health education is the elimination of long-standing stigma associated with a wide range of conditions. In general, we can all speak openly about cancer and diabetes, but it’s taken a lot of work (with more work ahead of us) to address depression and anxiety and even more severe afflictions.

As civilian society adjusts more widely to mental health, our military is taking measures to keep up. There’s an urgency associated with this evolution – for the 10-year span of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan, more than 40,000 service personnel deployed there at one time or another. Although our commitment to Afghanistan has ended, operations in Iraq, Africa and Eastern Europe are now under way (just as we had personnel committed to Haiti, the Balkans, Rwanda and many other places in the nineties), signifying that Canadian missions overseas are not going to cease any time soon.

These continued deployments make it necessary to ensure the military’s mental-health support networks are firmly in place, especially considering the broader public conversation. It’s also necessary for the Canadian public to have a better grasp of the current understanding of military mental health, as well as those attendant support networks.


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