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Canadian Military and Mental Health

Each time I hear of a suicide it breaks my heart. In the past few months there have been many suicides within the Canadian military. Although this past year has had the lowest suicide rate within the army, even one suicide is too many.

PTSD plays an enormous part in military suicides. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a disorder characterized by re-living a psychologically traumatic situation. It can develop following a traumatic situation that threatens your safety and makes you feel helpless. Anything from rape, assault, military combat, natural disasters, divorce etc. can cause PTSD.

PTSD symptoms can be put into 3 categories.

1. Re-experiencing symptoms

a) bad dreams

b) frightening thoughts

c) flashbacks

2. Avoidance symptoms

a) staying away from things that are reminders of the experience

b) feeling emotionally numb

c) feeling strong depression and/or anxiety

d) losing interest in activities

e) memory loss of the dangerous event

3. Hyperarousal symptoms

a) being easily startled

b) feeling tense or “on edge”

c) Having difficulty sleeping and/or angry outbursts

A government study done in 2012 suggests that 13.5% of Canadian soldiers that served in Afghanistan have mental health issues linked to their deployment. It is not only the experiences from war that cause PTSD in soldiers. It also includes things like divorce, financial issues etc.

In my personal (I would like to emphasize that this is a personal opinion) opinion there is 2 main reasons soldiers are not getting enough of the care they need.

1. Services not always readily available

Canadian Armed Forces mental health facilities are wildly under staffed and short of skilled professionals across the country. There is an urgent need for skilled mental health workers within the military, especially in the smaller base's. The hiring freeze in 2010 has made the situation even worse.

There are 26 mental health clinics and 7 operational support centers for the military across Canada, most vastly understaffed. The numbers tell us that the system is short of four psychiatrists, seven psychologists, 23 social workers, 18 mental health nurses, six administrative support staff, three addictions specialists and one manager.

2. Illness not being identified

Canadian soldiers are having a hard time having their illness identified. Most of the soldiers who have committed suicide were not receiving any care. The illness was not identified by health care professionals, family members, themselves etc. This is also quite common in the civilian world. We can’t keep letting these people fall through the cracks in the system.

I would also like to state that even though there are gaps in the system, things are slowly getting better. And there is a positive....

A wopping 51% of civilians in Canada said they would not hang out with a friend if they had a serious mental illness. By contrast, just 6% of military members returning from war said they would think less of someone receiving mental health care. Maybe we have something to learn from our soldier friends? Stigma doesn't seem to be one of the larger issues.

So what can we do to cover these gaps? More education? More staff?

What do you think?