War in the Mind is a new film from Director Judy Jackson
To view a trailer, please go to Judyfilms.com
REVIEW BY JAMES BAWDEN
Director Judy Jackson has taken a tough journey emotionally in this often penetrating study of the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and she has brilliantly personalized the illness so we come to care about a bunch of distressed young soldiers.
And if you can watch to the end without tearing up occasionally then you're made of sterner stuff than I am. She starts with quick responses to the standard questions, slowly drawing us into the world of young soldiers who have served their time in bloody battlefront conditions.
There's Tim. There's Dan. There's Richard. There's Chris. All so startlingly young. Many signed up for war in Afghanistan when they were still teenagers. All having the darkest thoughts since being discharged back into civilian life.
They describe comrades who died in front of them. They talk about killing the enemy and then realizing everyone has a face, a family, a history. And one then one famous veteran who himself still suffers from combat fatigue appears --it is General Roméo Dallaire and the genocide he witnessed in Rwanda will never leave him.
The statistics are startling --some 15 per cent of soldiers are affected to some extent with PTSD. The government statisticians say it's five to six percent. Which could be one reason so many distressed soldiers are slipping through the cracks and not getting the help they deserve.
Coming home only seems to exacerbate the pain. A profound sense of loneliness seems to engulf many veterans. They shun friends and family "You don't really fit in anymore," gripes one veteran.
They no longer feel safe going out. Flashbacks to terrifying incidents begin haunting them. "It stays digitally clear" is how the nightmares are described. And then comes aggression, outbursts at anybody who is near. There's the stigma of a male trying to find answers and desperately needing medical help. Without help many try to commit suicide.
And, astonishingly, in one session veterans from as far back as World War II say the pain never goes away --one veteran in his 80s still has the same screaming nightmare every night.
Jackson does a wonderful job in threading everything together and keeping us watching although some sequences are undeniably sad.
She expands her horizon by adding Dallaire's profound thoughts and then jumping to British General Richard Dannatt who says not enough has been done to help recovering soldiers.
One British case, that of Andrew Watson, who ended his life after he descended into deep depression shows the system failed him and hundreds of others. And we see how a Shaun and Sheila Fynes of Victoria struggle endlessly with the Canadian military for a full investigation after the suicide of Stuart Langridge in the Edmonton barracks.
Jackson tells this reporter her partner was diagnosed with brain cancer (and subsequently died) just as she was beginning to film this documentary. So she brought a sense of purpose to the story which does have a positive spin - Jackson found a bold new course, a UBC/Canadian Legion program helping soldiers to confront their fears and search for answers with others who are suffering.
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It’s called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: the unending echo of battle etched in the brain may affect up to 15% of soldiers by some estimates.. It can destroy families, and can leave its sufferers unable to work, addiction addled and changed.
All the soldiers who bravely speak out in this film are doing so because they want us to understand what they endure. They also want to reach out to others who are suffering in silence, and may feel the only way of ending their pain is ending their lives.
Senator and L. General (Retired) Roméo Dallaire also plays a major role in this film. For many years he has heroically spoken out in public to declare that he suffered intensely from PTSD and had attempted suicide. And today he continues to campaign on behalf of all soldiers who suffer.
War in the Mind also investigates the issue of soldier suicide. Statistics from past and present wars tell the sad story of the magnitude of this problem. Families who have felt invisible, their sons’ stories unacknowledged, tell of the impact of their loss.
Yet this film also discovers that with effective treatment suicide can be prevented. Our cameras gained unique access to a UBC/Canadian Legion program which helps soldiers undo the wiring that military training has implanted in their brains, confront their pain, and learn to live again. At the beginning of this therapeutic program one of the soldiers states:
“I have thought of committing suicide multiple times.
I’ve almost done it. You feel alone, and, once the alcohol
stops working for you, you are at the end of your rope”
After the last therapy session this same soldier was full of hope:
“I’ve seen changes in myself. Before I didn’t know if
I had a future, but now the world’s my oyster..…
so it’s a huge impact.”
A preview of this program has helped raise over $1.3M so that more soldiers can be treated.