Last week, 3 Canadian soldiers committed suicide due to post-traumatic stress injuries. These incidents have raised many questions within the Canadian Armed Forces, or CAF, regarding the availability of treatment and the quality of them. I also just learned that a friend of mine took his life here in base. He deployed two times in Bosnia and one in Kandahar. Even though he didn’t have a PTSD diagnosis, I know that he suffered in silence. He was the kind of guy who didn’t want to look weak to others.
In 2011, 22 Canadian full-time soldiers committed suicide. The 2012 records are not yet available. No records are kept for the reserve soldiers, which makes no sense at all. A military psychiatrist confirmed that there has not been an increase in the suicide rates among the Canadian Forces soldiers.
Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with heavy anxiety, I find this news even more troubling. It seems like the available mental health services are not the same everywhere. Suicide is often the last resort for a soldier who cannot deal with his symptoms anymore.
I strongly believe that we are lacking some serious resources regarding the soldiers mental health, even if the VA and the government are supposedly pouring money into those services. We are in a period where they need help fast, not where they have to wait a few weeks before being able to talk with someone.
Based on my personal experience with the mental health service here in CFB Valcartier, I did notice an increase in the number of patients. In 2010, I used to be able to get an appointment pretty much when I wanted, but nowadays it can take up to 2 months. Although it is getting harder to get services, I cannot say that I don’t get any. But there are other bases around Canada where the mental health services are seriously lacking. This is an old, last modified in August 2013, but pretty clear report of the difference between bases.
It seems like even if the numbers of soldiers suffering from all types of stress-related injuries are growing fast, and the CAF aren’t able to keep up. Organizations like Military Minds, founded by a friend of mine, Chris Dupee, have started to emerge due to that. More than 83,000 people from all over the world now follow them on Facebook.
They are soldiers suffering from PTSD or any other OSI who selflessly give their time to be there to help others like them. It is such a great thing, because it gives the opportunity to any wounded soldiers to talk about their symptoms with people who understand. Mental health care providers are there to assist us, but many of them, if not all, haven’t seen combat nor lived through situations like the people from Military Minds. They even created a crisis group to be able to intervene directly over the phone or in person with members who are about to hurt themselves or the people around them. I know for a fact that it has saved a few lives.
What amazes me is that the community created by Military Minds is very powerful and has helped a lot of soldiers come forward and talk about their symptoms. Meanwhile, Veterans Affairs Canada has set up a crisis help line available 24 hours a day, but can take up to 48 hours before a counselor will call you back. They do make it clear that it’s not a therapy and it is clearly written that it “is not an emergency service.” Isn’t crisis and emergency pretty much the same?!
I had a very bad flashback episode two years ago after the office hours and I was taken to a civilian hospital in the psychiatric emergency. This was one of the worst moments in my life. What makes me mad is that if you don’t feel well after the normal office hours, there are no resources available for you until 0800 the next morning but that crisis line. As for myself, the periods where I totally feel lost are at nighttime where no ‘’help’’ is available, and I surely won’t talk to a complete stranger who has no idea what I am going through over a phone call about my symptoms.
But we need to make something clear here. It is the responsibility of the soldier himself to get help. No one can order him to go get the available help unless there is an imminent danger to his life or to the ones around him.
I have heard many complaining about the services who never even took advantage of them. For some, they prefer to suffer in silence because they fear getting medically discharged. For others, they are scared to talk about it and prefer drinking and forgetting. Unfortunately, when you sober up, it comes back.
This is where the community comes in handy. Talking with another veteran who knows what you are going through without the possibility of losing your job is a good step forward. Here I mention Military Minds, but there are more organizations like them around the world. They will talk with anyone around the globe who will come forward and ask for help.
I find it very hard to talk about my experiences with people who haven’t gone through similar things. It took some time before I really opened up with my psychiatrist, and now that I am getting medically discharged in 6 months, I have to be ‘’moved’’ to an off-base clinic that specializes in PTSD. That being said, it will again be another period where I will need to regain trust in my new psychiatrist and the people who work there.
That clinic is already having issues with their lack of staff. I understand that it is not the fault of anyone who works there, but there is a 3-4 month delay between your appointments. This long period between appointments is very bad for people who really need treatment to help with their symptoms.
It really comes back again to the people around you and the communities available to help you go through bad times. Unfortunately, I think that we will need to wait a few more years before we get decent treatments. Colonel Rakesh Jetly, Mental Health Advisor, Directorate of Mental Health, Department of National Defence, said that the numbers of Canadian soldiers affected by PTSD will raise significantly in the next decade. Until then, we need to put our trust in organizations outside the CAF and VA to reach out and be able to speak with someone who will be there to listen to you without judging you nor putting you in a situation where you might lose your job.
Another VA approved organization I need to mention is OSISS. In 2001, a group of Canadian Veterans with an OSI, with the support of the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada, set up a peer-based support network to support each other and other Veterans. They recognized the benefits of sharing their experiences. This network has now grown to a national, community-based organization coordinated by screened, trained and mentored peers. Every member of the network brings firsthand experience and practical knowledge of what it is like to struggle with an OSI or to live with someone with an OSI. Coordinators have learned to cope with their injuries and now want to help others, confidentially. Your Peer or Family Peer Support Coordinator will listen, support and suggest options. How and when they help is up to you.
Let’s hope the VA and the CAF will take what Colonel Jetly said seriously and start hiring more mental healthcare specialists as soon as possible. If they don’t, there is a big chance that the CAF will lose very good soldiers who could’ve been treated and put back into the ranks, instead of being medically discharged due to the augmentation of their symptoms and the difficult access to resources. We have to stop reacting and start preventing to be able to give better care to our wounded soldiers.
(Featured Image Courtesy: Military Minds Facebook page)