Lakehead provides guidance and inspiration for Lakehead student veteran

November 14, 2014

For one student at Lakehead University’s Orillia campus, this week’s Remembrance Day services were especially meaningful, representing deep feelings of both sadness and hope.

Josh Briand, 34, is a fourth year Honours Bachelor of Social Work (HBSW) student who has spent over six years on a journey of recovery following a tour in Afghanistan in 2007 and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Briand decided to enter the armed forces shortly after high school during his first year of college. He realized that college wasn’t the best place for him at the time. “I wasn’t really ready for college and I saw my life going in the wrong direction.  I needed some discipline in my life, so I joined the military.”

After heading to Manitoba for training, then to Petawawa to join the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, Briand felt he was where he belonged. “I liked the military, even with its ups and downs; it helped to turn me into more of a man than the teenager I was. The military was bringing me up to where I wanted to be.”

Briand was part of a military disaster response team in Sri Lanka following the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, and then, in 2007, was sent on an eight-month active combat tour to Afghanistan. This is where the situation changed for Briand and created the challenges he has struggled to overcome ever since.

“When I got back from Afghanistan, my life started going downhill.  In Afghanistan, I saw a lot of bad situations and had to do some things that went against my morals. When I got back, this experience translated in PTSD and when I realized I had hit rock bottom, I asked for help.”

Briand began a long series of treatment and referrals within the military, all the while being labeled and treated as a drug addict. Eventually, he was referred to a world-renowned treatment centre in British Columbia, where things started to look up for Briand.

“The Edgewood Centre in BC was where I met a psychiatrist, Dr. Vincent, who was the first one to diagnose me with PTSD,” said Briand. “I just got lucky to get Dr. Vincent; he saw something in me and told me that I was not an addict.”

Armed with a full report and explanation of his PTSD diagnosis, Briand was encouraged.  But to his disappointment, the information in Dr. Vincent’s report was not recognized by the military and Briand was sent back to counseling services to treat drug addiction. Discouraged, Briand slipped back into self-medication.

Another two years passed, and numerous visits with military counsellors and social workers, before Briand came to the realization that something was wrong with the treatment he and his fellow veterans, also suffering from PTSD, were receiving.

“I knew that to survive, something had to change,” said Briand. “I decided that I needed to be part of the change and this determination gave me the ability to handle my PTSD.”

A friend and fellow veteran encouraged Briand to leave the military and go back to school. Briand compared his situation at the time to trying to climb over a wall. “It felt like the military was hanging on to me, making it difficult to get over the wall.”

After nine years in the military, Briand was released and he enrolled in the Social Services Worker program at Sir Sandford Fleming College.

“College was a stepping stone for me,” said Briand. With a goal of wanting to raise awareness of PTSD, help mitigate the stigma associated with the disorder, and advocate for more relevant treatment, Briand learned that he would need more than a college diploma to meet his goals.

“College got me ready for university,” said Briand.  In 2011 Briand was accepted into the Honours Bachelor of Social Work program at Lakehead University. Now in his final year, he says the program has been both challenging and inspiring.

“The program at Lakehead has helped me know more about where I want to go and how to be successful,” explained Briand. “The most important thing I’ve learned is understanding my passion about where I want to be.”  

After graduating, Briand hopes to work in a treatment centre setting working with addictions and trauma. He also plans to pursue a Master of Social Work degree, something he knows he’ll need to achieve his goals.

His long-term plan is to open his own treatment centre to treat military personnel. “I would love to have my own holistic treatment centre and have the contract for military personnel.”

“Josh is a wonderful example of the dedication and drive of our students,” said  Lakehead Orillia Dean & Vice-Provost Kim Fedderson. “He will be taking the skills and knowledge he has gained at Lakehead and contributing to the improvement of our society.”

With the many challenges Briand has overcome, he will no doubt meet his career goals and make a difference, especially to those suffering from PTSD.

In fact, Briand says that Veterans Affairs already uses his journey of challenges and achievements as a success story. “I do feel fortunate when I look at where I was and where I am today.”

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 Josh Briand, a Social Work student at Lakehead and a Canadian Forces veteran, hopes to apply his training and education to providing holistic treatment to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Josh Briand, a Social Work student at Lakehead and a Canadian Forces veteran, hopes to apply his training and education to providing holistic treatment to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Kathy Hunt is the Communications Officer at Lakehead’s Orillia Campus and can be reached at