Five other soldiers have committed suicide in the last six weeks, prompting veterans' advocates to demand action on what they say is a mental health crisis, including more resources being made available to the Department of National Defence.
The scope of the mental health problem reaches beyond just the recorded suicides, as documents obtained by Global News Found that for every suicide reported in the Canadian Forces in 2012, there was at least one attempted suicide reported.
This is all on top of the tragic suicide of Staff Sergeant Ian Matthews of the Hamilton police force who ended his life last month.
It all piles up. As a colleague of Sergeant Matthews, writing anonymously, explained in a letter to the editor:
Like the many scars that tormented Ian, there are new scars, there forever, on many people. His family. His friends. His colleagues. Those who were with him in the change room that fateful moment. Those who investigated his death. One must wonder what will be done for them. What will change? Or, will the cycle go on? Will trauma, emotions, turmoil, cumulative stress disorder, PTSD, depression, substance abuse, and family problems among police officers continue to be ignored? Ian was certainly not the first. Will any attempts be made to ensure he is the last?
When the people who protect us from harm both in our streets and across oceans kill themselves, they are work casualties, the same as if they'd been shot by an opponent. There is no work/life separation for them.
Just as firefighters can inhale toxins that lead to unexpected and costly illnesses later in life, PTSD and related accumulated injuries can be fatal, can tear families apart and do have broad social consequences.
But justice and mental health is just the tip of the iceberg. We are increasingly crippled by a crisis that is eating away at our economy, putting massive burdens on our healthcare system and sucking morale from society at large.
We don't teach youth to understand and self-regulate their cognitive states. Diagnosis is more an art than science, more interview than evidence-based. Mental illness is like asthma or diabetes - with the right accommodations, treatment and support, most sufferers can leave normal, engaging lives.
The thing that keeps this from happening is stigma, superstitions around mental health as outdated and outmoded as fearing the number 13. Mental illness isn't moral weakness; stigmatizing it is.
If our officers and soldiers who go through psychological screening to be accepted aren't "tough" enough not to get mentally ill, that says something, doesn't it?
This is too important an issue to let slide to partisan bickering. I don't care who's to blame for policies made or not made in the past; I'm not interested in blaming police, or EDPs, or service providers.
I want to see this fixed.
I want to see this fixed.
It's an issue that matters; for Rehtaeh Parsons, Ashley Smith, Sammy Yatim, Chris Peloso, the hundreds of stories we don't hear about every year and all those who suffer, painfully, in silence because of ignorance and fear, this must change. We must change.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, in conjunction with partners working directly in the mental health field, is holding an all-encompassing conference to discuss what's happening, what can be done better and how to catalyze the culture change we need.
This conference can and should serve as an opportunity for political parties at both the federal and provincial levels to renew their commitment to fostering a mentally healthy society and put forward some new ideas and shared solutions. It should be a chance to promote new innovations and tools being used to help, like WalkAlong and RealTimeCrisis.
Most importantly, though, it needs to serve as a tipping point, a kick in the butt for all of us to change our view about how the mind works, what impacts it and how we can manage our mental health better.
We have to do this. We need to start now.
Lives are depending on it.
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