By Deborah Gregson, | Canadian Mental Health Association Alberta Northwest Region
Another Remembrance Day has come and gone, and for many, especially those who have not been personally touched by war, it was just another day off.
But times are changing again, and more and more we are seeing, hearing, and knowing about conflict in the world and the heavy price it exacts, economically, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally.
Occupational Stress Injury, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is an often unrecognized health issue that leads some veterans down a road of depression, rage, interrupted family life, addiction, and even homelessness. There are many of our most vulnerable community members that struggle with the symptoms and consequences of such disorders as PTSD, or OSI.
Trauma can often trigger inherent proclivities to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and anxiety disorder. Family violence, employment challenges, and compromised physical health can also be effects of OSI. For the price they have paid to defend important freedoms and values in our world, our veterans deserve better, but have long been misunderstood and mistreated. With a greater understanding of mental illness, and its causes, people dealing with an OSI are able to access greater resources than ever before. But we have a long way to go.
It’s not just veterans that are dealing with OSI’s. Childhood trauma, even trauma of the mother during pregnancy, can affect a child’s development. With family violence, poverty, parental addiction, and increasing isolationism, many children are affected and experience interrupted development and an ever compounding backlash of mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, social and economic deficits as they age.
The solutions are not easy, but include taking time to understand how a person’s history has brought them to the place where they are creating such “difficulty” for others that they are labelled with a disorder, and as a community, accepting some accountability for that. They include making time and space in our communities for sharing in people’s stories, their pain, and ultimately their healing.
The solutions include compassion and working as a society to give higher priority to protective factors that help build resilience. Strengthening families and educating parents, providing the kinds of recreation, arts, and expression experiences that help kids navigate a difficult world, develop healthy relationships and build supportive social systems.
It starts with remembering. That many of the greatest contributors to humanity have been people with mental disorders, or “injured minds” that have seen something that needed to be changed to make the world better, and found a way to do it. That most of the worst things that have happened and are still happening in the world come from closed- minded individuals and groups forgetting they are part of a larger community. That everyone has a back story. That there are reasons why people are the way they are and doing what they do, which we cannot comprehend within that first encounter which often decides whether or not we write someone off. That everyone who is a human being deserves to be valued and treated like a human being with certain rights to have basic human requirements met and certain responsibilities to preserve the society that helps to meet them.
What we have learned about how the brain develops, about neuroplasticity and the changing of pathways tells us that there is hope for all of us.
There is hope for the closed-minded as much as there is hope for the injured mind. We need to be the kind of humanity that is still worth fighting for. It starts with remembering.