While attending a Remembrance Day service in Kingston last month, I was struck by the repeated messages of the importance of mental health as it relates to Canadian soldiers. In the past, we’ve all heard stories about ‘Uncle Frank’ who served our nation proudly in one of the great wars but was never ‘quite right’ when he returned. Today, thankfully, the stigma associated with all forms of mental illness has waned and mental health support initiatives continue to evolve and improve.
But, there is still a long way to go. According to Stats Canada, in 2013:
About 1 in 6 full-time Regular Force members of the Canadian Armed Forces reported symptoms of at least one of the following disorders: major depressive episode, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and alcohol abuse or dependence.
Depression was the most common disorder with 8.0% of Regular Force members reporting symptoms in the past 12 months.
The 12-month rates for post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder were twice as high among Regular Force members who had been deployed in support of the mission in Afghanistan compared to those who had not.
Between 2002 and 2013 the rate of depression among Regular Force members has not changed, while the rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder increased.
Regular Force members had higher rates of depression and generalized anxiety disorder than the general Canadian population.
Given that CFB Kingston is one of the City’s largest employers with approximately 8,000 employees, strong local mental health support programs are critical. Community awareness is just as crucial to benefit not only soldiers but those who support them on the job and at home.
“Military populations are at potential risk of mental health issues because their job can involve exposure to trauma, separation from family, frequent moves, and stressful living conditions.” – Stats Canada, 2013, Mental Health of the Canadian Armed Forces
There are tremendous resources accessible online through various sources including the Government of Canada website. I was reassured by the title of one of the web pages called ‘You’re Not Alone – Mental Health Resources’ under National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces. The messages are clear: Help is available. Do not suffer in silence. There are also some very moving testimonials from military personnel who have reached out for help. They are worth a read.
“If you break a leg, you’re going to go get a cast. Mental injuries should be the same way. The system does work. If you use the system to your advantage, use all the resources that are there, are honest with yourself, honest with your therapist and doctors, it will work. I feel great. I should have done this 20 years ago.” – Major Réjean Richard
As chaos ensues in the world around us, it’s paramount that we support those who have fought and those who continue to fight for our freedom.