Latest News

Military commander talks mental health

Dallaire praises UOIT during talk at mental health forum

Lt. General Romeo Dallaire speaks to the Futures Forum at UOIT. The retired Canadian and United Nations general was a keynote speaker for the event that focused on dealing with mental health issues. Dallaire drew heavily from his past work with the UN, where he led the detachment that attempted to halt the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the experiences from which left him suffering from PTSD. (Photo by Joel Wittnebel).

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Delivering a powerful keynote speech during UOIT’s latest Futures Forum, Lt. General Romeo Dallaire praised the institution’s efforts to raise further awareness around mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Dallaire delivered his address during the school’s forum centred on the “future of community mental health and wellness.” The full-day event focused on delving into discussions around what the institution is doing to address the issues of mental health.

Speaking to a full room at the institute’s downtown location, Dallaire shared chilling stories of his time in Rwanda, where he served as Force Commander for the United Nations peacekeeping detachment that attempted to halt the genocide that took nearly 800,000 lives in a short 100 days in 1994. The details of his experience are shared in his book Shake Hands with the Devil. His actions in Rwanda are credited with saving over 32,000 lives.

However, his experiences left him with PTSD, leading him to attempt suicide on four different occasions upon his return to Canada.

Dallaire is now one of the strongest advocates for mental health awareness for veterans and breaking the stigma that the affliction is one of the weak.

He says things have come a long way since he returned from the horrors in Rwanda.

“What we were doing then, we were very much still ad hocking and experimenting,” he tells The Oshawa Express.

“Now we’ve built more depth, there’s been more effort and research, there’s been more willingness to apply it and what we’ve really been able to crack is the stigma code.”

For those suffering, whether it’s veterans, first responders, police or anyone in the community that has undergone a traumatic experience, Dallaire says there are a trio of steps to take to help alleviate the symptoms of PTSD.

“It’s like a cancer, it keeps growing inside,” he says.

In order to ease the pain, Dallaire says people need to accept professional help, accept medications if they’re required and, most importantly, make sure to have significant peer support while going through the process.

“Without the peer support, you feel abandoned between the sessions, and that’s the worst thing because of the abandonment and feeling alone and you’re not talking to anybody, it’s the best way to sort of self-destruct yourself.”

It’s through these steps that sufferers can build a “mental prosthesis” to help support themselves, he says.

With that said, he recognized the importance of such forums and discussions as those being held by UOIT in moving the yardstick forward in terms of awareness and finding solutions.

“You’re challenging it, you’re innovating, you’re connecting with human beings,” he told those in attendance.

“This is not just anecdotal – you need some hard data to be able to bring some great new solutions.”