Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Canadian Forces Suicide Numbers Rise in 2011

The Canadian Forces reported that 19 men and one woman had committed suicide during 2011.  The number, although higher than the previous year, 12, is still well below the national average.

Canadian Forces have been deployed to Afghanistan since 2011.  Canada's combat role was terminated in July 2011 and Canada presently has approximately 950 trainers in Afghanistan.

Since 1996, the military has recorded 187 suicides among its members.  The causes for suicides can of course be a number of things, but many can now be attributed to service in Afghanistan and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  There have been several high profile cases, but many have not in the public eye.

The military has gotten much better in dealing with PTSD, especially since deployment to the former Yugoslavia, when lip service was still paid to it.  During the Bosnian war, debriefing teams of professionals were deployed to counsel troops and provide a means for debriefing them after actions.

After the initial deployment to Afghanistan the decision was reached to send troops for a week long debrief to Cyprus, prior to returning to Canada.  In the meantime education was provided to commanders and troops in the recognition of symptoms of PTSD.  This education is being extended to military spouses.

Private focus groups have also provided a means for troops to educate themselves.  Much of the problems had to do with the military culture where troops, especially combat troops, are hesitant to report any problems they may be dealing with.  Often a soldier withdraws and in the worst case they commit suicide.

The problem becomes larger with the number of reserve soldiers who have served in Afghanistan and don't  have the unit support structure available to regular troops.  The good news is that efforts have been made to recognize and deal with the problems.  Support groups seem to be one of the best approaches, but those are not readily available to soldiers living in remote areas or outside of the urban centres.

Mental health screening has also been increased since 2009 and soldiers must attend post deployment sessions with mental health staff.

Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk told a Senate committee on Monday that even with the gold standard of recruitment and all of the screening techniques available, it is impossible to identify every vulnerable soldier.

Canada has lost 158 soldiers in Afghanistan, many of them victims of Improvised Explosive Devices, where their fellow soldier were involved in securing the area and picking up the pieces.  All things considered, although one suicide is too many, overall with thousands of troops having served in Afghanistan, it could have been much worse.

It is up to the Canadian Forces, Veterans Affairs and Canadians to ensure our emotionally wounded warriors are taken care of.

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