June 23, 2024

Serene Nest

taking care of your health, Our Mission

Veterans open up about mental health ahead of Bell Let’s Talk day

4 min read

As Chris Dupee looks at a plaque, presented to him following his 2008 tour in Afghanistan, there is a moment of pride on his face.

“It was an amazing experience what can I say,” said Dupee. There are paintings of military scenes, soldiers with poppies and the odd photo or badge in this space, but not as much military regalia as one might expect.

“Being in the military it does become a life defining experience, but having it a life defining experience isn’t healthy, we need to recognize that’s just a small part of who we are “ he said.

While he is proud and says there are no regrets, the 10-year military career led Dupee down of a path of struggle with mental illness.

“You get pressed into mental levels that you never thought you would have to go,” Dupee recounted.

Dupee was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder upon returning from deployment, eventually leading to his release from the military.

“It’s a mirror right, we gotta look into it and we have to recognize what we see as ours. Okay I have PTSD… now what?” said Dupee.

Its something he confronts openly in very candid conversations, ones that he is now able to have years later. Struggling to find the right supports that suited his style and needs, Dupee realised a way of helping himself was to help others. That led to the creation of ‘Cadence,’ a mental health treatment centre for veterans and first responders that he co-founded in Newmarket, Ont. The centre has a few bedrooms to offer second-stage sober living treatment programs, a gym and common spaces. Staff members are on hand for different levels and types of therapy for inpatient and day clients.

The focus here is on conversation and community, building a comfortable environment designed by a veteran in order to help serve other veterans and first responders, with a focus on front line trauma.

“I’ve gone through my own journey of hell and I’d like to think I’ve come out of it. For me it’s painful to see other people going through it, so I try to be the voice for people that I wish I heard… that someone said to me when I was going through it.” Said Dupee, standing in front of a chalkboard wall in the reception area. The wall boasts inspirational quotes from former clients, people who have walked this path of recovery helping to guide those who will follow.

Trauma and grief are commons themes for those on a shared journey of pain and recovery.

Ward speaks openly about his emotions, what led to his suicide attempt and the recovery that followed. (Source: Heather Butts)David Ward is one of them — he sits quietly in a room playing a guitar before speaking with us. Ward served 19 years in the Canadian Forces including two tours in Afghanistan. He left the military on his own terms.

“I tried to move on with my life my way and I ended up falling into a deep rut and I attempted suicide with a firearm,” said Ward, now bearing the physical scars of his mental illness. He speaks openly about his emotions, what led to his suicide attempt and the recovery that followed.

Ward served 19 years in the Canadian Forces including two tours in Afghanistan. (Source: David Ward)

“I realized that the moment I felt that bullet go through my forehead was… I was looking at the world wrong, I had it wrong. It allowed me to open my eyes in a different view because at that point in time I had lost hope.” said Ward.

That was in 2021, Ward had watched as the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan leading to the fall of Kabul, then lost a friend to suicide, and in December of 2021, attempted it himself.

In the last two years, Ward has focused on resuming his physical fitness while working on his mental health. That includes a portion of time at Cadence, where he found strength in working with therapists along side other veterans.

In the last two years, Ward has focused on resuming his physical fitness while working on his mental health. (Source: David Ward)

“I don’t want people to follow the same footsteps. There are veterans and first responders who are succumbing to their mental health and depression and substance abuse and its’ killing them,” said Ward.

“I’m hoping that with my openness and my struggles and being open with that, hopefully people can relate and not go down the same path, the dark path that so many of us do.”

Sitting with staff in the common room, it’s evident that in this space, it is about a community helping each other through shared conversations.

“It starts with I believe in acknowledgement of what you’re going through, you really gotta see that, talking helps you get to that point, whether its with a therapist or best friend, mother, whoever it is,” said Dupee, who admits managing mental health is a lifelong journey, one he believes should not be done alone.

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