Canadian corporal creates online forum for soldiers with PTSD
Published Tuesday, August 27, 2013 10:00PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, November 29, 2013 10:02PM EST
Soldiers who have seen combat are at a much higher risk than those who haven’t to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and mental illness. It can be a recipe for isolation and depression. But a Canadian soldier is gaining international attention for finding a way to reach military personnel who are quietly suffering.
Almost two years ago, Cpl. Chris Dupee of Barrie, Ont. released a gritty, personal video in which he opened up about his PTSD and mental anguish that began after serving in Afghanistan. The video seemed to strike a chord with other soldiers, receiving 1,000 hits in just one day.
“It changed my life, that one video,” says Dupee.
“I couldn't believe people were listening to me… I thought I was alone, that I was the only one having these thoughts,” he says. “It was just a comfort (to realize) I am not alone. It lifts a whole burden off the shoulders.”
Dupee served with the Royal Canadian Regiment from Petawawa, Ont. and was an LAV gunner in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009, before joining the Joint Personnel Support Unit in 2009, the Canadian Forces arm that coordinates mental health treatment.
His video turned out to be the beginning of a website he dubbed Military Minds. The site has become a forum for soldiers, veterans and their spouses to talk freely with other soldiers and vets about their mental suffering -- something that’s still considered taboo in the macho culture of the military. It’s also a connection point where soldiers and veterans can learn about where to find mental health help.
In the two years since its inception, the Military Minds’ Facebook page has amassed 60,000 followers in Canada, U.S. the U.K., Australia and 16 other countries. Like Dupee, many of the soldiers and vets have released their own online videos, documenting the horrors they witnessed.
Dupee has also launched another site for active soldiers who want to keep their identities and their comments private. And he’s been awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Fellow soldier Mike Collins, who served 14 years in the army including a stint in Bosnia-Herzegovina, says he came forward for help after seeing Dupee’s first video.
"My immediate reaction was, 'Wow, that guy has a tremendous amount of strength and fortitude… to come out publicly and say he is struggling with mental health'," says Collins.
"Suddenly it was okay for me to talk about because someone else had talked about it first and I said, 'Yeah, you know what, I am struggling as well," he said.
It is shame and stigma that prevents so many from seeking help, says Dupee.
"Service members will keep everything inside, but when it starts to leak out, that's when you start seeing them drinking, doing drugs," he says.
Without help, suicide can be the tragic outcome.
"I know for a fact firsthand that we (Military Minds) have saved lives," he says.
Dupee’s aim is to shatter the silence that surrounds mental illness in the military. He plans to get the message out to reach more soldiers and their families, connecting them with agencies that can help.
"Letting as many people know we are out there… that's the biggest goal," says Dupee.
With a report from CTV medical producer Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip