A new report by the Canadian Forces shows that soldiers who have been deployed overseas are at a higher risk of taking their own lives.
The Canadian Forces annual report on suicide reveals that 18 military members committed suicide in 2015. While the report says the overall suicide rate within the military is not statistically higher than for the rest of the population, the risk for those serving in the army is much greater than it is for those serving in the navy or air force.
“The suicide rate amongst army personnel is about two to three times higher than it is compared to members who serve in other elements of the Canadian Forces and about 1½-times higher than males in the civilian population,” said Col. Andrew Downes, director of mental health for the Canadian Forces.
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Downes said the military’s research also shows that the risk of suicide is higher for personnel who have been deployed overseas into places like Afghanistan.
“It’s really not the deployment itself that’s the risk for suicide. It’s what happens on deployment,” Downes said. “People, when they deploy, are exposed to more dangerous environments where they are at risk of physical injury and mental injury as well.”
Despite the increased risk that goes along with overseas deployments, Downes said suicide is a complex matter. The military’s report shows almost half of those who committed suicide in 2015 suffered from a documented depressive disorder. Nearly all were under stress in their personal lives, facing failed romantic relationships, legal problems or debt.
“All these people are human and they all have stressors,” Downes said.
Time to do more
The government and the military have pledged to take action on suicide in the ranks. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said he is working with the chief of the defence staff on the issue as part of the government’s defence policy review.
Sajjan said the goal is to find new strategies that can be put in place for future overseas deployments by the Canadian Forces.
“For example, building greater resilience in pre-deployment training, early on, so that we can help with some of the challenges that are faced and also other things, post-deployment,” Sajjan said.
Randall Garrison, defence critic for the NDP, questions the government’s resolve, saying it has already taken far too long to come up with any answers about a continuing crisis.
“You know, in 2013 we had a rash of suicides that first brought this to the public attention and to the minister’s attention. Now, here we are, three years later, and no one has done a thing,” Garrison said.
One family’s hope
The family of one Canadian soldier who took his own life says that if the military wants to improve suicide prevention, it needs to listen to Canadian Forces personnel and their families.
Sheila Fynes’s son, Cpl. Stuart Langridge, committed suicide at CFB Edmonton in 2008.
“I think they need to go back to the grassroots to do it. They need to talk more to the men, all the men,” Fynes said.
“They need to talk to the families. I really wish somebody would say to me, ‘You were with Stu, you talked to Stu, is there anything that we could have done differently that might have had a different outcome for him?'”