Peer support work “really hits home” for Petawawa soldiers

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Petawawa, Ontario

The soldiers behind a peer support program at 4th Canadian Division Support Base Petawawa in Ontario say the program has helped them as much as it has their comrades.

Sergeant Graham Ridley and Corporal Saxon Murray, both members of 2 Combat Engineer Regiment (2 CER), bring their own experiences with operational stress injury (OSI) into play, which Sgt Ridley said ranges from supporting others who have suffered OSIs, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to offering career guidance. The program officially got underway just over a year ago.

Both trained to be peer support coordinators with the Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) program, a joint initiative of DND and Veterans Affairs Canada which was created in 2001.

“I can’t say it’s any one specific thing,” Sgt Ridley explained. “The program is based around social support for OSIs and for people struggling with something, but if somebody comes down to see us about something else, we’re not going to turn around and say no. It’s been everything from guys just trying to figure out whether they should sign up again or get out to what other jobs are out there.”

Both say they are glad to have the opportunity to offer the benefit of their own experiences to their peers.

“One thing I dealt with a lot through all those years was, I wanted to get help a lot of the time but I would try to hide it,” said Cpl Murray, who began experiencing flashbacks and anxiety after being injured in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. “This included me abusing drugs like painkillers and drinking, all that stuff, to try to avoid the fact that there was something wrong with me so I could show up at work and do my job. So I thought that it would be good to be able to help people in my shoes. Just being somebody to point in the right direction so they don’t try to hide their problems and they get that help.

“For me, the most rewarding part is working with guys who have had their own struggles with PTSD and depression from deployment,” added Sgt Ridley. “And to see them getting back into it, that really hits home for me.”

Sgt Ridley first came to the OSISS program as a client after being diagnosed with PTSD following a traumatic experience during his deployment to Afghanistan.

“I’ve been involved in the program myself,” Sgt Ridley said. “I’ve been attending groups and participating in OSISS activities when things weren’t going too well for me and I found it to be a big help. As I started getting better I figured, why not pay it forward?”

Master Warrant Officer Cal Schrader, who also serves with 2 CER in addition to being Sergeant Major of 26 Counter IED Squadron within the regiment, was a driving force in establishing the program and said he didn’t have to look very long to find the right people to lead it.

“They’ve both been through it and there are a lot of people here that could use some help,” he said. “They’ve gone through the system and they’re both smart enough and capable enough and well-respected enough that they would be perfect for that position. It just made sense.”

How successful the program has been to date is difficult to measure, MWO Schrader added, but he has little doubt it is making a difference.

“It’s one of those things that are hard to put a measure on because they do respect the confidentiality,” he said. “And that’s important in order to maintain trust. But from all the feedback I get, they’re busy enough there and, really, if they’ve helped one person it’s more than paid for itself. If it’s prevented a suicide, how do you put a price on that?”

In addition to the OSISS program, there are a number of peer-support programs in place across the CAF. One such initiative, the Sentinels Program, is an Army resource that originated in 2nd Canadian Division in 2007. It was used in Afghanistan to support soldiers there in 2010.

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