The Mental Health Iceberg

Article / February 6, 2014

This story was written by Medric "Cous" Cousineau, SC, CD Capt (Ret’d) in his own words.

Folks, most of you have never met me, or know of me for that matter. I left the Forces in 1991 which is not yesterday by anyone’s standards. But I do have something that fortunately many of you do not… I have over two and a half decades of battling serious mental health issues, and the very fact that I am alive is a testament to good luck and not necessarily good management. My injuries occurred in October of 1986, in the North Atlantic, and very shortly thereafter the words “Post Traumatic Stress” appeared in my medical documents. Considering that PTSD was introduced in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV in 1994, I am one of the earliest formal diagnoses of this devastating injury.

So, what have I learned and why is it so important to you, as both a member of the Forces, and critically, as a supervisor? By the time a mental health issue manifests itself so that it becomes apparent in the workplace, know that there is a huge problem underlying what you see, and it is somewhat akin to a cesspool. Nobody can splash around in a cesspool without somebody getting splattered and sadly in most cases, it is those closest to the cesspool. So, when a member is in trouble with mental health issues, know for a fact that his family is wearing it, and in most cases, wearing it big time. Many family members are afraid to reach out for help, battling the same stigma that the members themselves are wrestling with. What happens if I tell someone?

Here is a very sad truth. In an attempt to mask the symptoms and issues of mental health for fear that disclosure will end one’s career, you will in fact wind up exacerbating the issues and it will cause the end of your career. More than likely in the process, you will have done a serious amount of damage to your family relationships.

Mental health issues are not a fine wine, and if untreated, really do not age well.

So how do you effectively deal with these issues personally and as a supervisor? How do we overcome the stigma associated with mental health problems? What can we do to ensure that early treatment options are made available and acted upon both by the system and the individual?

Perhaps, the single largest weapon in our fight against mental health issues is Hope. Hope that whatever we do today will ensure that tomorrow is better than yesterday. Hope that the help we seek will help our families deal with the issues we are dealing with and Hope that they too can reach out and get help. Remember, they are wearing the splatter, and it is not inconsequential.

This article is not going to be a rehashed listing of the many programs that are available through the Forces Medical and Personnel system. There are other venues for that. But know this to be true: if one chooses to suffer alone, isolated and in silence, the road you are following leads to nowhere that is any good. In the case of PTSD, 60 per cent of those diagnosed have depression, anxiety, panic, night terrors, agoraphobia, addictions and suicidal thoughts. It is really no landscape to be traversing alone. In the Forces we have been trained to ensure we do not leave our battle buddies, our wingers out there on the battle field. When it comes to dealing with serious mental health issues, the same applies.

So the next time you are thinking about a buddy or one of your troops, and you know things are starting to head off the rails, think about how you are approaching the problem. Just like the iceberg, so much more is buried beneath the surface, and the most powerful weapon we have in our arsenal is Hope.

Yours Aye, Medric “Cous” Cousineau, SC, CD Capt (Retd)

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