COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Lt.-Cmdr. Michael Sorsdahl talks of his work treating post-traumatic stress disorder in the Canadian Forces on Friday afternoon.
While the Canadian military has made a lot of progress in helping those dealing with post-traumatic stress, Lt.-Cmdr. Michael Sorsdahl says there is still a long way to go.
Sorsdahl, former commanding officer of the HMCS Brandon, said a shift needs to happen where post-traumatic stress and trauma recovery is dealt with in a proactive rather than reactive way.
"The problem is, right now normally we’re reactive — someone has a problem, we react to fix it and we’re very good at doing that," he said. "But if we try and create programs that are proactive, ensuring that it doesn’t reach levels where people can’t work, or it becomes problematic in their family life, that will be a better benefit."
Sorsdahl first joined the military 18 years ago. In his civilian life, he is a psychotherapist and certified clinical counsellor, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma recovery.
PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that’s triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
Sorsdahl said he would like to see more mental health professionals trained in PTSD in the military.
"There are no uniformed psychologists in the military or uniformed counsellors," he said. "We have social workers that are in uniform, and we have nurses and … some medical doctors that specialize in psychiatry."
In the early part of his naval career, Sorsdahl was deployed overseas to the Arabian Gulf.
"While I was back, I realized my friends ... people I knew, myself included, had challenges re-entering back into Canadian society every time you deployed," he said.
For those who witness horrors overseas, Sorsdahl said it’s "extremely important" to have support available.
"Anyone that is exposed to such an event should have the capability of seeking help and be alright with seeking help, and not have any stigma placed on them for seeking help to get through it," he said.
There is often a fear that the stigma associated with PTSD will cause a loss of work.
"That you will no longer be able to be capable in the military if you have PTSD, which is not the case," he said. "It just means that you need to be able to work through it."
Sorsdahl said more mental health research needs to be done, possibly sponsored or commissioned by the military.
"PTSD is a challenge and an issue within the Canadian Forces in general … just as much as it’s an issue in every military in every country in the world that has to deal with conflict situations," he said. "Proactive transition programs that actually help people transition and deal with the issues, to allow it not to be hidden will make it better."
Sorsdahl said the next step in his personal career is to go onto medical school and specialize in psychiatry.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 26, 2013