Post-traumatic stress disorder

Globe and Mail Update

Debbie Bodkin has seen a lot of human misery in her job as a sergeant with the Waterloo Regional Police Service. But nothing prepared her for what she saw and heard interviewing Darfur refugees in 2004 and 2005, as a volunteer for fact-finding missions by the U.S. and the United Nations. Her experience was so emotional that upon her return to Canada, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

While in Darfur, she talked to young girls who had been gang-raped; consoled a man who'd seen his son, wife and parents killed before his eyes just hours before; and documented hundreds of stories of families killed, villages destroyed, and rapes at the hands of the Sudan government-funded janjaweed militia.

When Ms. Bodkin returned to Canada with high hopes that the West would intervene to save the people of Darfur. More than 200,000 people and 2.5 million displaced from the region since 2003, and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the killings genocide. But still the West did nothing.

Ms. Bodkin fell into a deep depression -- triggered not, she believes, by the horrors she'd heard, but by her feeling of powerlessness. She couldn't sleep, she couldn't laugh, she couldn't look at any of her 800 digital photos of Africa. Her usual efforts to cheer herself up -- a little chocolate, some nice red wine -- tasted like ashes.

A counsellor diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder and suggested that talking about her experiences would help. Ms. Bodkin, who was one of The Globe's Nation Builder of 2007 nominees, started telling her story -- to schools, rallies, civic groups, conferences -- and she hasn't stopped. She has bookings through November.

Ms. Bodkin has agreed to join us online and answer questions about her experiences in Africa and recovering from PTSD. Her discussion will begin at noon EST on Friday.