Post-traumatic stress disorder focus of retired soldiers' Canadian march

A trio of retired soldiers are marching across Canada to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder.

Steve Hartwig of Vancouver, Scott McFarlane of Sparwood, B.C., and Jason McKenzie, of Regina Beach, Sask., served together on a peacekeeping mission in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

All three came home with PTSD after witnessing what their website only refers to as ``atrocities.''

McKenzie says their aim is to raise awareness about PTSD and reduce the stigma about it.

Brandon University professor Phillip Goernert says it's not just military personnel or first responders who live with the disorder.

He says about 10 per cent of Canadians actually struggle with PTSD.

"Anyone who is exposed to something traumatic has the potential for those negative memories to unwantingly become retrieved and then be problematic for them to deal with,'' said Goernert.

"It becomes really problematic for a person with that diagnosis to stop thinking about bad things they've experienced.''

Goernert said even regular, everyday activities can cause anxiety and depression or trigger the reliving of a traumatic moment.

The family of a retired RCMP officer who killed himself last weekend is also speaking out about PTSD and encouraging other officers who are having problems to get help.

Ken Barker had been one of the first people on the scene of the grisly beheading of a young man on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba six years ago.

His relatives told the Winnipeg Free Press that when Vince Li, who was found not criminally responsible in the slaying of Tim McLean, started taking unescorted absences from a mental hospital last fall, Barker started having flashbacks.

Hartwig, who has admitted he also contemplated suicide, said he knew something was wrong the minute he got home from overseas.

"When I was in parade and I turned and faced the legislature, my parents were there and I saw them and at that point, just inside, I just sunk,'' he recalled.

"As PTSD gets a deeper grip on you, your world becomes smaller. There's less interaction with family and friends, there's less interest in activities that would normally keep somebody going.''

He dealt with it on his own for a decade before he went to a doctor and was diagnosed.

That's when he finally started seeing a therapist and got help.

McKenzie he didn't know anything was wrong until a former girlfriend told him he was having bad episodes during his sleep.

"I wasn't even aware of it,'' he said.

He urged anyone who is experiencing anxiety, depression or re-occurring memories of a bad experience to seek help from a professional.

"We're trying to ... make it comfortable for people to come out and talk about it.''


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