HMCS Glace Bay sailor hopes to reach others with story of depression, recovery

LS Michael Spencer, a stoker aboard HMCS Glace Bay, is sharing the story of his battle with depression in hopes of benefiting others who may be struggling. Photo: Ryan Melanson, Trident staff.

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By Ryan Melanson, Trident Staff

A sailor in the MCDV fleet is sharing his story of battling with depression and suicidal thoughts, along with the story of his treatment and recovery, in hopes of reaching other Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members who may be going through similar experiences.

“I lived with the symptoms of depression for 25 years, pain and torment and constant self doubt and self abuse. It sucks,” he said, describing years of difficulties with family, school and other factors that led to worsening symptoms and multiple attempts on his own life.

“I might not be here today if I hadn’t gotten that help,” he said.

Leading Seaman Michael Spencer, a stoker currently posted to HMCS Glace Bay, now leads a happy life with a career he enjoys, a loving wife and two children at home, but he had a long road to get there. He was abused by his father and suffered through traumatic experiences as a child, and now knows he began experiencing symptoms of mental disorder when he was as young as 11 years old.

LS Spencer met his would-be wife in 2008, joined the CAF soon after, and while his depression continued and even worsened during his naval career, access to help, specifically the psychologists employed by Canadian Forces Health Services Centre (Atlantic), led him to discover the roots of his issues and begin turning things around.

He recently shared the details of his story in a blogpost on http://thomasfhunter.wordpress.com, where he normally posts creative writing projects. He’s been getting positive feedback since then from colleagues, but hopes to also reach CAF members or anyone else who might benefit from learning about his experience.

“People who know me are understanding my story and who I am now that they’ve read this, and that’s great.”

“What I really hope, though, is that someone who is struggling might read this and know that they’re not alone, and see that I didn’t do everything right, and I made mistakes along the way, and it took a long time, but I still got better. It is possible,” LS Spencer said.

“That’s the biggest thing I’m hoping for in sharing my story.”

He credits the ‘outstanding’ military resources available, the help of Annie Boivin at CF H Svcs (A), the support of his wife and many others with helping him reach this new, positive stage of his life. He also found support from the sailors and command teams in former ships Athabaskan and Moncton; his supervisors in Moncton even helped him recognize symptoms that were reemerging, leading to additional treatment in 2016. He also highlighted that others might prefer to seek help more discreetly, and that CAF members’ medical information and treatment histories are confidential.

LS Spencer briefly spoke up and shared his experience at the Stadacona event marking Bell Let’s Talk Day on January 31, and spoke with others afterward about initiatives they’d like to see within the CAF, like a mental health resource pool for military spouses and family members who rely on the civilian system, or an informal list of members across the base who are willing to offer advice or share their own experiences with mental health and treatment.

Above all else, however, LS Spencer stressed that no CAF member struggling with mental health should do it alone, that resources are available and can literally save lives.

“I might not be here today if I hadn’t gotten that help,” he said.

“If you’re having trouble, start talking about it. Start asking questions, and start thinking about getting help. Just know that you can get better.”

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