Study con­firms long-held fears

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - NATIONAL NEWS - LEE BERTHIAUME

OT­TAWA — A land­mark study from Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Canada ap­pears to con­firm what many have long feared: Cana­di­ans who have served in uni­form are at greater risk of tak­ing their own lives than mem­bers of the general pub­lic.

The re­sults showed that the risk of sui­cide among male vet­er­ans of all ages was 36 per cent higher than men who had never served in the Cana­dian mil­i­tary, which was cause for con­cern.

But even more wor­ry­ing was that the risk was sig­nif­i­cantly higher among younger male vet­er­ans, with those un­der 25 be­ing 242 per cent more likely to kill them­selves than non-vet­er­ans of the same age.

The risk among fe­male vet­er­ans was also found to be alarm­ingly high — 81 per cent greater than for women who hadn’t served. Age was not con­sid­ered as great a fac­tor when it came to women who had worn a uni­form.

The sta­tis­ti­cal study did not delve into the rea­sons vet­er­ans are at greater risk of sui­cide than the general pop­u­la­tion, though it did say that the trend has been largely con­sis­tent for decades.

Re­searchers used 37 years of data from Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, the De­part­ment of Na­tional De­fence and Sta­tis­tics Canada to re­view the records of more than 200,000 for­mer ser­vice mem­bers be­tween 1976 and 2012.

Sta­tis­tics Canada was un­able to pro­vide more re­cent data, which is why the study did not go past 2012, though of­fi­cials say they in­tend to con­tinue adding to the in­for­ma­tion as more num­bers be­come avail­able.

The study is the first of its kind and ap­pears to con­firm what un­til now has been only anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gest­ing that those who have served in the mil­i­tary are more likely to kill them­selves.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has promised to roll out more ser­vices and sup­port to serv­ing and re­tired mil­i­tary per­son­nel through a new sui­cide preven­tion strat­egy, which was re­leased last month.

Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sea­mus O’Re­gan said of­fi­cials will now study the re­sults and try to find ways to im­prove that strat­egy — and ul­ti­mately cut down on the num­ber of mil­i­tary and vet­eran sui­cides.

“Ev­ery one of those num­bers is a life,” O’Re­gan said out­side the House of Com­mons on Thurs­day.

“You can’t stop re­peat­ing that be­cause you’re talk­ing about friends, you’re talk­ing about fam­ily, you’re talk­ing about peo­ple within the mil­i­tary com­mu­nity where these things re­ally res­onate.”

While there have long been sus­pi­cions that the sui­cide rate among vet­er­ans was higher than the general pop­u­la­tion, Queen’s Univer­sity psy­chi­a­try pro­fes­sor Diane Groll said the re­sults were nonethe­less sur­pris­ing.

That’s be­cause de­spite con­cerns about the num­ber of sui­cides among some seg­ments of the mil­i­tary, es­pe­cially the army, the over­all rate among all ac­tive ser­vice mem­bers has been sta­tis­ti­cally sim­i­lar to the general pub­lic.

“So I guess I would have as­sumed that given there is no dif­fer­ence in the ac­tive mil­i­tary, there prob­a­bly wasn’t this big of a dif­fer­ence in the vet­er­ans,” said Groll, an ex­pert on men­tal health in the mil­i­tary and po­lice forces.

“My mind­set was: Yes, it seems to be a lot more, anec­do­tally, but it comes down to cov­er­age, so you don’t know un­til the hard, cold stats come out.”

Groll could not say why it has taken the gov­ern­ment so long to con­duct such a study, par­tic­u­larly if the sui­cide rate among vet­er­ans has been greater than the rest of the pop­u­la­tion for decades.

And she ac­knowl­edged that the re­sults leave more ques­tions than an­swers, in­clud­ing the rea­sons why vet­er­ans are more likely to take their own lives — and how to ad­dress the is­sue.

“But with­out hav­ing the base­line num­bers, you know noth­ing,” Groll said. “You can’t do any­thing with­out the base­line in­for­ma­tion.”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

A Cana­dian flag patch is shown on a sol­dier’s shoul­der in Tren­ton, Ont., on Oct. 16, 2014. A land­mark new study from Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Canada ap­pears to con­firm what many have long feared: Cana­di­ans who have served in uni­form are at greater risk of tak­ing their own lives than mem­bers of the general pub­lic.

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