4.20.2008

suicide rate of canadian troops has doubled

The suicide rate among Canada's soldiers doubled from 2006 to 2007, rising to a rate triple that of the general population, according to data obtained through access to information requests.

Last year, the number of suicides among regular and reserve members of the Canadian Forces rose to 36, the highest in more than a decade, military police records obtained by Maj. Michel Sartori show.

Sartori, a Laval University doctoral student, has been gathering information about military suicides for years. It's the subject of his thesis and a topic close to his heart, since five of his colleagues killed themselves after a tour of duty in Yugoslavia in 1994.

He believes the rise is linked to the intensification of Canada's mission in Afghanistan when soldiers moved into the volatile southern region in 2006.

Based on the military police reports, he found that the average suicide rate among Canadian Forces military members, both regular and reserve, between 1994 to 2007 was 16 per year.

But the number of suicides among members of the military rose to 20 in 2006 and then jumped even higher to 36 in 2007, or a rate of 41.4 suicides per 100,000 soldiers. That's double the rate in the previous year.

Sartori says he was alarmed when he received the latest numbers.

"It was a shock, total shock," said Sartori. "I almost fell out my chair."

The 2007 numbers put the military suicide rate at triple that of the general Canadian public. Over the past two decades Canada's overall rate has ranged from 11.6 to 14 suicides per 100,000, though recent numbers are not available.

Dr. Greg Passey, a former military psychiatrist and head of a post-traumatic stress disorder clinic in Vancouver, says the spike in military suicides is "disturbing" but not surprising. He says he believes it's related to what he calls the "increased tempo" of the Afghanistan mission, which began in 2002.

"We're now a number of years into that mission and the frontline, the combat soldiers, and even the support staff are having to do multiple tours," he said.

The psychological stress of those missions is cumulative, he said, and Sartori's discovery may be the wakeup call the military needs to deal with the issue.

Veterans Affairs says that the number of vets experiencing some kind of operational stress injury, such as PTSD, has tripled in the past five years, and they expect it to continue rising with Canada's mission in Afghanistan likely to last until 2011.

Roughly 2,500 Canadian soldiers are serving in and around Afghanistan's Kandahar region, where they are battling Taliban insurgents.

And for what? For what?? For oil? For warlords? For poppies? To squelch a religious-political movement we disapprove of? To ingratiate Canada with the US?

13 comments:

kim_in_to said...

Thanks for posting this; it's something that is completely omitted from arguments about the decision to continue occupying.

While there will always be some who join the armed forces for the opportunity to engage in violence (see the case of the three goons in Toronto who murdered a homeless man), I do believe that many join with good intentions, such as protecting democracy or peacekeeping. I think most do not understand what they are getting into. (In a way, I am sad to see General Rick Hillier stepping down, since he's actually helped the peace movement by being honest about the role of troops: to kill people.)

I am certain the number of suicides will actually be higher, since more and more soldiers will come home suffering, and that suffering will be long-term (and as you point out - for what?). I think PTSD will result in more suicides in the years to come.

John Briere (one of the foremost authorities on PTSD) made this observation:
Q. What is the main difference between the Vietnam and Iraq wars?
A. 1) We have become much better at killing people.
2) We have become much better at keeping people alive.
The result is that we have more soldiers getting harmed, but surviving. In a way (this sounds horrible), those coming home having lost a limb are the lucky ones, because they will always have a visible reminder of their experience, and will always be afforded some understanding from the general public. But many will be returning with emotional trauma - from what they have seen, and from the guilt of what they have been asked to do - and that suffering can be extreme (i.e., completely incapacitating) and is often long term. And it is compounded by the fact that the suffering is "invisible", so the longer it goes on, the less understanding people tend to be (typical responses are "snap out of it" or "get over it").

PTSD is difficult to treat (if it is recognized by the military at all, and not completely denied, as has happened). The longer someone suffers PTSD, the more likely it will be with them for life. Visit PTSD forums and you will find two types of people: 1) victims of violence (often women), and 2) Vietnam war veterans. This is an indication of what we will have to deal with in the years to come. It's no wonder suicide starts to look like a reasonable option.

L-girl said...

Thanks so much for this, Kim. Please feel free to post relevant links if you wish.

I have interviewed many survivors of sexual and/or relationship violence, and am a rape survivor myself. I have an abiding interest in PTSD.

Also, like many people, my life and my partner's life have been touched by suicide, so we retain a special interest in that as well.

A long-time friend of wmtc, M@, has a book out that collects stories of Canadian peacekeepers. He has said that, almost without exception, people volunteered for the best of reasons. If I recall correctly, a huge percentage of them - maybe all? - suffer from PTSD in some way.

I've also written about how post-traumatic stress continues to resurface in my life - despite the fact that I don't identify as having PTSD, and have done so much healing work. This makes me wonder, all the time, about the many sufferers who haven't acknowledged the issue and don't get the support they need and deserve.

redsock said...

those coming home having lost a limb are the lucky ones, because they will always have a visible reminder of their experience, and will always be afforded some understanding from the general public

Perhaps that is the case in Canada.

In the US, however, the government is constantly devising new ways to make sure that all injured veterans get as little future care as possible.

And with no national health care system, tens of thousands of Iraq vets will end up destitute, some quite quickly, living on the street.

Support the troops, indeed.

kim_in_to said...

Sure - I understand that. I was referring to public sympathy, not government/medical support. And if it's hard to get government support as an amputee, try getting it for emotional trauma.

Laura: I'll try to cite sources from now on, although a lot of it comes right from memory. I am very close to someone who suffers severe PTSD from an assault (mugging) years ago. As well, in my day job I am a seminar organizer, working specifically with the "helping professions" (psychology and social work, therapy and counselling). We do a couple of seminars on PTSD every year.

L-girl said...

Kim, I didn't mean you *should* cite sources/refs. Not at all. I meant that if you were refraining from posting links b/c some bloggers don't like that, you should not refrain, but post them if you like.

Your comments are great and don't need links.

****

I relate to that sentiment that people with visible wounds are "the lucky ones". I felt that way after the assault. Once the visible bruises healed, I thought most people thought I was ok now. I wished that the pain could be on the outside, so people would know what I was going through. I had quite a bit of support, but still, I wished this. I can only imagine how it feels for "tough guys" who aren't "supposed" to have these issues.

M. Yass said...

And for what?

What else? To fight Bush's oil wars. And to enrich the military-industrial complex. Hey, it provides jobs and it's good for the economy.

impudent strumpet said...

So the question is, did our political/military leaders see this coming? If not, why not? If so, why precisely did they think it was an acceptable sacrifice?

L-girl said...

M Yass: Sure, especially if you're a KBR stockholder.

ImpStrump: good questions. If we were in the US, I'd say, they simply don't care. Here, I want to think that isn't the case.

M@ said...

M@ has a book out that collects stories of Canadian peacekeepers. He has said that, almost without exception, people volunteered for the best of reasons.

Not only that -- and this is the thing that keeps me on the pro-soldier side, even if I'm not often on the pro-governmental-policy side -- but those best intentions tend to be played out in the work they do overseas, even in Afghanistan.

I heard nothing of the kind of contempt or dehumanization for the people they dealt with, something that is very, very easy to find among American soldiers' accounts -- not, I think, because those soldiers are different as people, but because the nature of the work (and the leadership at the highest levels) is very different in our two countries' case.

This, to me, is an example. I recorded dozens of hours of interviews, with people as young as their early thirties and as old as their mid sixties, from all over the country, with extremely varied backgrounds (from inexperienced reservists to career military officers), who served literally all over the world. And in all that time, whether referring to the civilians around them or the enemies they themselves fought, no one ever used a racial or ethnic slur to refer to any of them. I had to edit a lot of swearing out of the interviews, but none of it was racist. And to be honest, that surprised me, because I definitely met some complete rednecks in the military.

I contend that this is because our military is well-run, and it is designed to espouse the values we generally hold as a country in the way they do their work. I'm happy that I can be proud of the military that represents us.

If I recall correctly, a huge percentage of them - maybe all? - suffer from PTSD in some way.

Not all, but certainly many -- and only a very, very small proportion have been diagnosed (a product of how few have sought any diagnosis, I'm sure). One described getting hold of a quiz that the army medics had put together to see if someone was possibly suffering from PTSD; his score was almost perfect for full-blown PTSD. Another was "at the bottom of a bottle" and pretty much unemployable -- at 20 years old -- for a year after he came back. Both were reservists in Cambodia.

I keep saying, the cost of Afghanistan is far from paid when we leave. The veterans are going to be paying for it for decades. We, as a country, had better step up and foot the bill, whatever that bill might be.

Um... sorry -- rant(s) over! I intend to blog about this same story soon...

L-girl said...

I had to edit a lot of swearing out of the interviews, but none of it was racist.

Whereas the racism, for the US soldier, begins in basic training and continues through their military experience. This is deliberate and pervasive. The Iraqis are never Iraqis - they are never even people. They are "sand niggers", "towel heads", "hajis" and of course "terrorists".

L-girl said...

The veterans are going to be paying for it for decades. We, as a country, had better step up and foot the bill, whatever that bill might be.

It's imperative. We have to demand it.

Matt, thanks very much for your input. When you have a post up about this, I'll highlight it.

impudent strumpet said...

I wonder if those slurs existed before US military involvement in the middle east? They seem kind of...amateurish, like they haven't been in the language very long. I wonder if they evolved organically, or if at some point there was a propaganda meeting to come up with some slurs like that one Monty Python where they had a contest to think of a derogatory term for Belgians.

L-girl said...

I wonder, too, how African-American recruits feel about the term "sand nigger"?

****

The men who testified in Winter Soldier I (Vietnam vets) said "there were no Vietnamese - there were only gooks - that's the only thing we ever heard them called".

The men and women who testified in Winter Soldier II (Iraq & Afghanistan vets) said the same thing, with different slurs.

If that doesn't happen with Canadian forces, then something very different is going on.