The suicide rate among military, police, first responders, and correctional officers is alarming. Their loss undoubtedly resonates deeply with family and friends. For service personnel struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the loss is particularly jarring.
Military personnel Mark Cushman of Owen Sound and retired police office Lance Mulholland of Barrie have in the past month introduced a PTSD peer support group in Meaford for military, police, first responders, and correctional officers living with PTSD who are wanting to meet to talk through their struggles, and find common ground and support. The group meets every Wednesday evening at McGinty’s Cafe.
On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1994, a buddy of Mark’s committed suicide while on tour in Rwanda. Mark’s initial response was one of anger - anger toward his buddy; then guilt - guilt that Mark maybe had not done enough for his buddy. The harsh living conditions in Rwanda, the horror of genocide, the refugee camps, the smells of suffering and death - all of these, combined with his anger and feelings of guilt, left Mark numb and unable to grieve for his buddy.
Till 2016, when Mark accepted that he could not cope on his own. By 2018, he had completed Project Trauma Support, a program that he credits with saving his life and his relationship with his family.
Based in Perth, Ontario, Project Trauma Support is a program that promotes healing among individuals struggling with the trauma that can arise out of performing duties that are part and parcel of one’s line of work. It is a not-for-profit Canadian program that addresses Post Traumatic Stress and Operational Stress Injury in military personnel, veterans, first responders, and corrections officers. The program focuses on connection. The program’s focus is to “honor the warrior story and spirit by promoting time-tested values and unconditional acceptance to help participants transition from post-traumatic stress to post traumatic growth.”
Disorder or injury
Post traumatic stress is tagged for medical reasons with the word ‘disorder’, a word that can imply a sickness, and invokes the too common stigma of mental illness, according to Mark. He views post traumatic stress as an injury, one that can heal with time and support. “Disorder labels people,” he says. “Whereas injury implies that we can heal and move forward. People need to know that it’s okay to have a mental health issue. The journey of life is not always straight forward. Sometimes the road of life is straight, some times there are curves and bumps in the road and brick walls along the way, but one can recover and come out on top a better person.”
Mark credits the Project Trauma Support program for him feeling healthier than he did two years ago. “I feel good about the world,” he says. “I am feeling proud of my military career, whereas before what I felt was just bad. The anger I felt toward my buddy, I buried it. I understand now that what my buddy was going through was like an injury and the only thing he saw to stop the pain was suicide.”
Project Trauma Support has helped Mark recognize the symptoms that are common to individuals experiencing PTSD, symptoms such as hypervigilance, that is, constantly watching for threats where threats would not exist; stress on family and friends who “all they see and know is that you are behaving differently and spending a lot of time alone”; and disassociation from people you may have to interact with but you are not happy to be among.
Mark also has learned to recognize the triggers that can carry individuals back in time to the traumatic experience, triggers such as smells, crowds, or incidents that are not in themselves threatening but because of past experiences are perceived as threatening.
Understanding and support
The PTSD Peer Support Group is an ongoing part of Program Trauma Support. Mark and Lance are grateful for the support in the municipality, in particular Donna Ferguson, owner of McGinty’s Cafe, who is opening her doors after hours for the peer support group at no charge. Donna recognizes the contribution military, police, first responders, and correctional officers make to society and is happy to provide for them in her own way. “Absolutely. No question about it,” she says. “You give to us. I give to you.”
The Meaford PTSD Peer Support Group meets every Wednesday, 7 to 9 p.m. Entrance to McGinty’s Cafe at 45 Sykes Street North is by the rear patio door. For information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit projecttraumasupport.com.