In October 2011, we convened a working group of veterans, a psychiatrist, an art therapist and a documentary film team to create a Participatory Documentary Project that will give Canadians the opportunity to better understand the individual, family and community experiences of people living with PTSD. The group has since decided to highlight the voices of their children, who are so deeply effected by their parents' experience of PTSD. Together, we have made a commitment to produce a documentary project which will also serve as a forum for participants to express themselves, engage in a healing process and reach out to others in the military, in their neighbourhoods, in their schools, and in their circles of family and friends.
Our research revealed that a number of the young and adult children of military veterans share a wall of silence. Most children in military families link PTSD with shame and confusion. The stigma is so deep, so much apart of their fabric, that they not only hold their experiences and their feelings back from their friends, but they often don't speak about the daily realities of PTSD within their families.
After working with the family for a number of months, we recently filmed teenage sisters Jessica, 18 and Patricia, 15 and their father, military veteran Louis Leconte. Louis served in Eritrea, Afghanistan and Haiti. Their participation in the filming reflects their strengths and their courage. The sisters both acknowledge that they haven't talked to each other or to their friends about their experiences of their father's PTSD. As Patricia told us during our research:
"A couple of my friends know but they just don't get it. I don't want them to think that my Dad is a bad person. It's not his fault. He doesn't mean it."
Both young women acknowledge that their father has mood swings and can be volatile. It is clear in this filmed conversation that the young women have empathy for their father's struggles. When asked about what has made them decide to speak out through this documentary, Jessica tells us:
"To let other people know that it's OK to talk about it.. that they're not alone, because you know sometimes you feel like you're the only one going through this but there's other people, you just don't know."
"Yeah, because people keep it to themselves; maybe there is someone else on your street who is going through the same thing, but you just don't know. It makes you feel different than other people, and you don't want to seem different."
While filming, Louis acknowledged his struggle and also his reason for reaching through his own silence:
"I wish - people were not afraid to talk about it. As soon as something doesn't feel right, I hope that they're strong enough to go and talk to [a] professional and get some help. Because if they wait too long, you'll be divorced, separations, you know, alcohol, drugs, all kind of stuff. I don't know how many times I've been thinking about suicide. But because of the kids‚ they give me life as of now. And I thank God for that!"
When asked about the qualities that make their father a good Dad, Jessica smiles, "He really watches over us. Sometimes we don't like it but sometimes it's a good thing. And he cares a lot about us. He'd do anything for us."
This Documentary Project is already promoting a healing process among participants. Kingston psychiatrist Dr. Janet McCulloch, our primary partner on this project, has seen remarkable changes in the families who have been working on this project. In each of the families that include children young or old, there have been significant breakthroughs in the way that they relate to each other and a new optimism about the possibilities of healing and recovery. As examples, Andy, a 32 year military veteran has reconnected with his son and held his grandson for the first time. Rick renewed long stalled conversations with his 3 adult children. Louis, Jessica and Patricia have understood more about each other, and are sharing the pride in each other's courage to speak out.