Royal Roads University professor Roger Girouard served as a rear admiral with the Royal Canadian Navy in the 1990 Gulf War, the conflict zone of East Timor and in operations related to the Swissair tragedy off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Coming back from East Timor, he began to notice something wasn’t right.
Girouard refers to it as his “accumulated debt” which reveals itself in a high sensitivity to acts of kindness. He said he becomes overcome with emotion in response to kindness, whether in daily life or on TV. It’s something he can’t control and a direct result of witnessing trauma.
As far as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms go, Girouard realizes he is lucky, but he said he has seen enough people go down dark roads to know that it can be much worse.
“As far as symptoms go, that’s pretty light. I can live with it,” Girouard said. “But I know folk who have much more severe symptoms and I recognize the issue of not being able to control it, it makes you very vulnerable. … I’ve known fellows who end up basically living in a cocoon because they react so painfully. If it doesn’t have to be like that, it shouldn’t.”
Royal Roads University hosted a forum organized by Girouard on PTSD last Friday as a means to address the disorder and create better communication between the agencies that provide treatment and support.
“The goal is to bring awareness ot the issue and at a regional community level see if we can get a little bit of horizontal communication,” Girouard said.
Despite PTSD being far more talked about and recognized now then ever, Girouard said Canada still has a ways to go. A high percentage of soldiers come home from conflicts with PTSD and many remain undiagnosed and untreated.
Even less talked about is PTSD among the civilian population. It’s not only war that can cause the disorder, but also natural disasters, car accidents, domestic disputes or any other traumatic events.
The forum, co-sponsored by the university and the Royal Canadian Legion, brought together guests from various agencies and fields.
Members of the Victoria Police Department, Correctional Service of Canada, Veterans Affairs Canada, B.C. Ambulance and others took part in the forum, along with sufferers of PTSD, the military community, medical authorities and members of the public. An online live stream was also offered for those who couldn’t get into the sold-out event.
This is the first event of this kind or scale in this area for at least 10 years, Girouard said. Both military and non-military related cases of PTSD were included in the discussions and presentations, as the forum sought an overall approach to the mental disorder.
Alternative healing was looked at, including biofeedback and energy medicine. Girouard said that traditional, medical approaches to PTSD are extremely important, but that alternatives could be complimentary.
Ultimately Girouard said he hopes that this event helps to spark more conversations and more connections between agencies that help people with PTSD.
“What I want to do is try and tease people out of their comfort zones, the silos that these professions have, and take a look at what is in fact the spectrum of possible options that are out there,” Girouard said.
With his own experience with the disorder, Girouard has learned to embrace it as a mixed-blessing and something that inspires him to keep working towards improved care for other sufferers.
“I’ve learned to not only accept it but it reminds me I’m human, so I’m OK with it,” said Girouard. “But that’s not the common outcome.”
Video of the forum can be found at www.livestream.com/royalroads.