According to Veteran Affairs Canada, almost 24,000 Canadian Armed Forces personnel and 5,725 RCMP officers were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) between 2013 and 2018. And last year alone, 15 military personnel committed suicide. These are unsettling statistics, and Canadians need to work on ways to help save those who have given so much to save others. Of course, we also need to assist others in our communities who suffer from PTSD, anxiety or depression.
The outdoors can play a great role in helping people battle through these invisible injuries. It will not fix them, but it can certainly play a positive role. I should know—I am also battling PTSD, and I’ve discovered that fishing and hunting offer some of the greatest therapeutic medicine in the world.
As a person who spent the last 27 years dedicated to the service of my country as an RCMP officer, I can honestly say I would change very little. My career has been a blessing, providing me with a good and honest income to raise a family. I have been not so fortunate, however, in that my work has also come home with me over the years. And here I’m not just talking about the outward physical exhaustion, bloodstained clothing and shortness of temper.
It was the psychological injuries that took me to my knees, what I and many others refer to as “invisible injuries”—the battles that take place in our heads, the reliving of horrific events, the hyper-vigilance, the nightmares and all the other gifts that PTSD brings with it. When I was home in the presence of my family, I was certainly not emotionally present.
A distinguished RCMP officer shares his story of how time in the outdoors is helping him combat #PTSD and other invisible injuries
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Things came to a head in the summer of 2015 when I almost took my life. I could not do it, however, when I realized I needed to live. In addition to my regular therapy treatment, daily medication cocktails and a service dog named Nova, I tried everything possible to find ways to enjoy life again. I desperately searched for something to bring me peace and a natural, relaxing high.
Finally, thanks to my family and some great friends, I was able to rekindle my love for the outdoors. As the weeks and months progressed, so did my hunting and fishing adventures, shattering my anxieties along the way. I had finally found a pleasurable peace, away from all the demons haunting my mind. And each time I went out, I found I was getting stronger mentally—I soon realized happiness was achievable again.
During the dark cold winter months in my home province of Saskatchewan, however, I still found myself struggling to get my excitement level going. I needed something to bring me that natural, relaxing high and sense of calm I so desperately needed. So, in January 2018, I took up ice fishing in a big way, with my first outing on Saskatchewan’s Long Lake.
Once my collapsible ice shelter was secured against the fury of the freezing winter wind, I climbed inside and fired up my heater. There I sat, warm and cozy, watching my underwater camera like a child in front of his favourite TV show. At that moment, I realized how relaxed I was, and a strange peace surrounded me.
I felt a sense of belonging, of being one with nature. My PTSD, anxiety and depression were finally at rest, and I was filled with a true feeling of happiness, stabilizing both my emotional and physical well-being. I had found serenity at a time when I was questioning its very existence. In the end, I went home empty-handed that day, but I was happy—a feeling that I had seemed to forget. Even though I had no fish, it was a victorious day in my personal battles. I had come out on top.
If you know anyone with PTSD, anxiety or depression, please take them fishing or hunting to help get them back on top, too. And if you yourself are suffering, add the natural gift of outdoor medicine to your tool kit in combating PTSD and other invisible injuries. Most of all, remember to never give up.
Steven Gloade is a First Nations RCMP officer and aspiring writer.