Calgary Herald

death rate among soldiers lower than civilians: study

Military personnel found at greater risk of suicide

- Derek AbmA and brADley bouzAne

despite the obvious risks faced by military personnel, new data shows Canadian soldiers have a significan­tly lower death rate than the general population.

Statistics Canada’s Canadian Forces Cancer and Mortality Study, which looked at health informatio­n for soldiers over a period spanning more than three decades, shows those who enlisted in the Canadian Forces between the start of 1972 and the end of 2006 had a 35 per cent lower chance of dying of any cause within those years in Canada than the average person in this country.

“Canadian Forces personnel, in order to get in, have to pass a certain medical standard and a certain physical standard, so we’re generally a healthy population to start with,” said Col. Colin MacKay, who co-chaired the study’s advisory committee and also served as director of Force Health Protection. “It’s hard to say whether that full 35 per cent reduction in risk for mortality for all causes is attributab­le to the healthy worker effect. There may still be some effect from the culture within the Canadian Forces, where we try to promote health and physical fitness.”

Out of the 188,161 people who enrolled in the Canadian military between 1972 and 2006, 3,969 deaths were counted. This didn’t include the 44 soldiers killed in combat in Afghanista­n as of the end of 2006 — or even the 156 who have now been killed. However, those deaths would represent only a small proportion of military deaths. Statistics Canada analyst Jean-Michel Billette said the effect of hypothetic­ally including combat deaths in the report would not have “changed the figures significan­tly.”

Among men, the figures showed military members had a 36 per cent lower death rate than the general population over this time, and it was 33 per cent lower for women.

“The results from CF CAMS (CanadianFo­rcesCancer­andMortali­ty Study) suggest a healthy population of serving and released personnel with lower mortality rates for most causes of deaths,” the Canadian Forces said in a statement on its website. But part of the data flagged by the Forces for further analysis was the finding that female soldiers ages 40 to 44 were 2.1 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population within this demographi­c. It was deemed a “statistica­lly significan­t” finding, but a relatively small number overall — 13 suicides over the 35 years studied, 12 of whom were women released from the military at their time of death.

The Statistics Canada report also showed male soldiers, once released, were 1.46 times more likely to commit suicide than the average person. According to the data, 696 male soldiers committed suicide after their release from the military.

Service personnel with less than 10 years of service also experience­d a 2.7 per cent higher suicide rate than those with lengthier stints in the Canadian Forces, MacKay said.

Looking at all age groups of soldiers enrolled in the military, the suicide rates for both males and females were not considered to differ significan­tly from the general population.

In recent years, the Canadian Forces has taken steps to reduce the prevalence of suicide, including the establishm­ent of operationa­l stress and trauma treatment centres and joint personnel support units that work to help Forces members suffering from a wide range of conditions, including mental health issues.

 ?? Baz Ratner, Reuters ?? A study of 30-year health data for soldiers finds that those enlisted have a 35 per cent lower chance of dying than the general population.
Baz Ratner, Reuters A study of 30-year health data for soldiers finds that those enlisted have a 35 per cent lower chance of dying than the general population.

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