There’s no sweeter time than maple syrup season for Stéphane Grenier, lead consultant with Mental Health Innovations Consulting.

Every spring, Grenier can be found tapping trees and boiling sap at his sugar shack in Cantley, Que. Quiet moments feeding the fire and monitoring long hours of boiling to produce a tangible, palpable result is what Grenier says he enjoys most.

But solitude wasn’t always something that Grenier sought. In fact, it was the camaraderie that initially drew him into his 29-year-long military career. The search for solitude is a byproduct of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition he’s battled for nearly two decades.

In 1994/95, Grenier was stationed in Rwanda for 10 months in a communications role. The focus for him and his team was to help kick-start the local economy by teaching people to rely more on their own resources and less on the non-governmental organizations.

This was his first deployment to a hostile environment—despite having already served 10 years in a combat arms regiment. “I did tours before—exercises in Norway—but these are exercises with fake bullets. Nobody was really dying.” Women and children weren’t used as shields in training, he says.

“I came back and fell off my rocker, like most of us who came back from Rwanda,” he bluntly explains. “In the aftermath, I was just trying to keep it together.”

On his return, Grenier says he had a “hard time being around human beings.” Bored in Canada and suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, he did all he could to get deployed on other missions—and off to Cambodia, Kuwait, the Arabian Gulf, Lebanon, Haiti and Afghanistan he went.

He doesn’t recall any helpful military briefings about mental health following any of his missions. “I don’t remember [mental health] being a focus. What was done was…clinicians talking to a bunch of soldiers. The language was not congruent with ours. We didn’t give a shit.”

The first six years post-Rwanda “were not too happy times for me,” he says. During this time, Grenier started obsessively reading about the aftermath of war and mental health, and came up with a solution to help him and his hurting comrades.

Grenier approached the military’s head of HR with the idea of implementing a peer-support system. “Peer support existed before I came up with this, but for us, it was very foreign.”

Initially, the idea was met with resistance. “People didn’t believe it would work,” he explains. “You can’t ask people with mental health problems to help others in the workplace— suicide rates will go up, people will relapse,” he remembers being told by colleagues. But it did work—and well.

More than a decade later, the military is still using peer support, and more soldiers are seeking treatment, sooner. On the heels of that success, Grenier has worked to introduce peer-support programs into workplaces nationwide since his retirement from the military in 2012.

Grenier says that while his PTSD is now in check, he will always be “broken.” “What I have now is a psychological prosthesis. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a limb, but I’m assuming it’s the best comparison. That limb never grows back, but you are capable of living a [good] life because you have a prosthesis.”

Grenier admits he’s still not fond of crowds, which is why he savours the spring at his own sugar shack and skips the multitude of maple syrup festivals throughout Quebec.

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