By KATHLEEN HARRIS; NATIONAL BUREAU CHIEF
Last Updated: 26th June 2009, 1:05am
OTTAWA — Canada’s top soldier praised the depressed, stressed and emotionally scarred men and women who are bravely “breaking the silence” about mental illness in the military. Sharing their stories of pain, substance abuse and being a “train wreck,” five soldiers coping with post-traumatic stress disorder helped Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk launch a national awareness campaign yesterday. He urged the Canadian Forces “heroes” suffering symptoms of operational stress injury to step forward for help — and urged healthy soldiers and family members to lend them a hand. “We must dedicate the same care and concern supporting our people as we do to our mission,” Natynczyk said. “I’m making this broad appeal to anyone who wears the uniform to step up, to make a difference, to support our comrades. We need to make every effort to support the mental well-being of our men and women.” The CDS said “bravado” and tough shells prevail in the military, and that soldiers don’t want to show weakness by exposing a physical or mental injury. Lingering stigma about mental illness also means soldiers fall through the cracks and don’t get the help they need. Cpl. Jean Toussaint, a Calgary-based reservist who has served in Cyprus, Bosnia, the Middle East and Afghanistan, said some military men and women have “literally been left to fend for themselves” on the streets, in homeless shelters and under bridges. “They deserve better. This is a duty and an obligation we cannot put aside, and we have not put aside,” he said. Toussaint said PTSD is like any physical injury of combat, except the point of impact is the soul, not the body.