Mental health

Not getting better

Suicides in the Canadian military aren't going down. And we still don't know the full picture.

Canada’s military suicide problem isn’t getting better

The Canadian military lost 18 soldiers to suicide in the last year alone.

That figure comes from a report released today by the military’s Surgeon-General, highlighting that the pace of suicides within the Canadian Armed Forces has not slowed down.

Last year’s report, which only covers members of the Canadian military who are currently serving, reported 19 suicides.

“There is strong evidence that the [Canadian Forces] mission in Afghanistan has had a powerful impact on the mental health of an important minority of personnel who deployed in support of it,” the report says.

The Surgeon-General found male soldiers in combat units and under army command were most at risk.

Between Canada initial deployment to Afghanistan, in 2002, and last year, male soldiers in combat units committed suicide at a rate roughly 80 percent higher than those in other service roles. That difference is getting worse: in 2015, male soldiers under army command were two-and-a-half times more likely to have taken their own lives compared to those serving in the navy or air force.

The report’s authors argue the emerging pattern cannot be attributed only to insufficient access to mental health resources, which they found had improved dramatically over the period. A review of 14 cases of suicide involving male soldiers in this year’s report show 10 had accessed primary medical care within 30 days of their deaths.

The report found that Canadian Forces members in non-combat units did not experience higher than average suicide rates than the general public.

More research is required to understand how deployment compares to other factors — including mental illness, childhood trauma, relationship strife, addictions and debt — contributing to suicide rates, the report says.

The office of the Surgeon-General has published an annual review of military suicides since 2010 to examine the effectiveness of mental-health treatment for military members.

Because the study doesn’t track military personnel after they have left the Canadian Forces, critics argue it obscures the true scope of suicide crisis among Canadians who’ve served.

Cover: Photo via Combat Camera/Canadian Armed Forces

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