Nearly 65 per cent of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members who took their lives in 2016 had at least two mental health diagnoses at the time of their death, according to the Surgeon General’s Suicide Mortality Report for 2017.
Common mental illnesses reported at the time of death included depressive disorders (35.7%), post-traumatic stress disorder (7.1%), or an anxiety disorder (21.4%).
Additionally, a documented substance use disorder was reported in 42.9 per cent of 2016 Regular Force male suicide deaths.
Released on Wednesday, the report examined suicide rates and factors in the military from 1995 to 2016. Although, the Surgeon General has declared that “there was no statistically significant increases in the overall suicide rates,” the report shed light on the underlying factors leading to those who committed suicide in 2016.
According to the report, 85 per cent of Regular Force males who died by suicide had at least one work or family-life stressor. These stressors included failing relationships, a friend or family member’s suicide or death, a family member’s or personal illness, debt, professional problems and legal problems.
More than half had at least three stressors prior to their death.
Of the 14 men in the Regular Force who took their lives last year, six were dealing with the loss of a loved one.
“We recognize the sacrifices that our brave women and men in uniform make in the service of our country every day. Losing a military member or a Veteran from suicide is a tragic event that impacts us all, and one suicide is too many. Taking care of our women and men in uniform is my personal priority and I remain fully committed to this obligation to Canadian Armed Forces members and their families,” said Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of Defence.
The report also noted that evidence is “waning” in support of history of deployment being a significant factor in suicide. It did, however, find that the suicide rate in the Regular Force male population who were in the Army combat arms occupation “appeared higher than the overall suicide rate of all non-combat arms Regular Force males.”
The Surgeon General’s report did not assess the factors that contributed to the death of one Regular Force female who took her life in 2016, due to privacy concerns nor did it examine suicides of reservists or veterans.
According to the CAF, reports such as these serve as an important reminder for military leadership to give precedence to this issue and encourage CAF members to get help. This is why initiatives such as the Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy and the 2016 Mental Health Expert Panel report on Suicide Prevention have taken place in recent years.
“The health and well-being of all Canadian Armed Forces members is our highest priority. We know that the CAF has highly capable and compassionate personnel working hard to improve our support programs and services. The recently released Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy will help guide this work, and will help to ease the stressors that some experience during the transition to civilian life,” said BGen. Andrew Downes, Surgeon General.
To review the report click here.