By Trevor Greenway
Major. Réjean Richard spent two decades hiding from the stigma of mental illness.
He spent months in his basement, having up to seven intense anxiety attacks a day that left him unable to sleep, unable to work and incapable of being a major in the Canadian Military. He hid his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his wife, his grown kids and even to this day, his parents.
Richard told his story Wednesday – the first time ever publicly – about how he was able to muster the courage to ask for help. He knew he was risking his entire career and rank going for help, but it saved his life.
"For me, it was either going to seek treatment or committing suicide and I couldn't do that to my wife of my parents," Richard told Metro following a Bell Let's Talk panel discussion on mental health at National Defense headquarters Wednesday morning.
"If I could do it all over again, I would have sought treatment in the mid 1990s because then I wouldn't have had to suffer in silence. I feel fantastic now."
Admitting you need mental help for a rough and tough military officer is as hard as fighting a war, added Richard, who served in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti and Afghanistan during his 30-year career.
The stigma that comes with it is close to unbearable. But another major reason Richard hid his illness from everyone was because he knew disclosing it would threaten his career. And it did.
Richard can never again be promoted in the military. If he was younger, he would have had a chance to reverse his medical category, but he knows as well as anyone that he cannot be deployed to combat situations because it may trigger his PTSD.
But for younger soldiers, Richard urges them to get help now.
The process gives soldiers a three-year retention period, so they can seek help and get back to work. If they are healthy enough, they can reverse their medical category and begin working their way up the ranks again.
But if a soldier is still sick after three years, he or she will be medically discharged. That is almost what happened to Richard. He was set to be discharged next month, but his health has come full circle and he is back at work full-time, but in a limited role.
"What I tell soldiers now is to be optimistic and get the treatment now and that will probably salvage their career if they want to remain in the forces."
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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.