The men and women who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces have shown incredible dedication, sacrifice, and loyalty. They need to be given the weapons needed to succeed on the battlefield but also need to be given the proper support to live a healthy life once they have returned to Canada. And yet, 54 Canadian Armed Forces members, according to CBC reports, have taken their own lives after having come home from their deployment in Afghanistan.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was labeled as shell shock after World War One, and those suffering were often subjected to electro-shock therapy. After World War Two PTSD was labeled “battle exhaustion.” It was only until after the Vietnam War that PTSD became a formally recognized mental health illness by the American Psychiatric Association.
Those suffering from PTSD may suffer from anxiety and depression. PTSD-sufferers may experience devastating flashbacks, increased heart rate, sweating, often leading troops to feel the need to control those feelings through alcohol and drugs. This has led to a high rate of drug and alcohol abuse among returning soldiers.
In Canada there were 25 military suicides in 2011 and 17 suicides in 2012. Veterans Affairs Canada has said that 1 in 6 members of the Canadian military reported mental or alcohol disorders and 8% reported symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder.
But while this news is grim and upsetting, there is hope. We, as Canadians, can and must support the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect us. We need to support them and pay our respects for their dedication by giving them the resources they need and deserve so that suicide rates and substance abuse amongst veterans ends.
Yesterday, February 21, 2016, military veterans and supporters held vigils across 4 provinces to support families who have lost a Canadian Armed Forces relative to suicide. This tragedy is the type of issue that can galvanize us and compel Canada, its citizens, and its government, to do a better job of supporting our veterans. PTSD knows no race, no sex, no religion or ethnicity. It attacks all people and so we must be prepared to combat it using every tool we have as a nation.
Given that February is a time for raising awareness for mental health, let’s bring exposure for the mental health struggles and addiction issues many veterans go through as they cope with the past and move forward with their lives. We must be prepared to help them and their families in whatever way we can. They protected us, now it is our turn to help them.