OTTAWA – About one in six members of the military have reported experiencing symptoms of mental or alcohol disorders, Canada’s number crunching agency said Monday amid calls for “proactive” measures to combat the problem.
In a 2013 survey of full-time regular Canadian Forces members, Statistics Canada found that nearly 17 per cent of respondents had experienced symptoms in the previous 12 months consistent with at least one of a half-dozen disorders.
The military has been grappling to identify the triggers that led to a series of suicides among soldiers in 2013 and earlier this year.
A report last fall that reviewed 38 suicide investigations came up with 74 different recommendations on how to deal with the issue.
There were 25 confirmed suicides in 2011 and an additional 17 deaths in 2012, said the report.
Statistics Canada’s Canadian Forces Mental Health Survey asked about major bouts of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, incidents of anxiety or panic and alcohol abuse, as well as alcohol dependence.
Major depressive episode was the most common disorder reported, with eight per cent of regular force members meeting the criteria.
Roughly five per cent reported having experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety.
“Symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder were reported by 5.3 per cent of full-time regular force members in the 12 months prior to the 2013 survey, while 4.7 per cent reported symptoms consistent with generalized anxiety disorder,” the agency reported.
Another 3.4 per cent reported symptoms consistent with panic disorder.
Soldiers also reported troubles with substance abuse.
Of the regular force members surveyed, 2.5 per cent said they had symptoms consistent with alcohol abuse while two per cent said they were dependent on alcohol.
The results are somewhat in line with the Canadian Mental Health Association’s findings among the general population.
In a comprehensive mental health study conducted in 2011, the association found that one in five Canadians will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lifetime.
Still, NDP defence critic Jack Harris described the Statistics Canada findings as “alarming” and said the government needs to take steps to lower the numbers of soldiers suffering with mental or alcohol abuse problems.
“The biggest worry I have is the concern that they’re not getting treatment fast enough,” said Harris.
Military officials say adequate care is being provided to Canadian Forces members who reveal that they are having difficulties.
But Harris said the government needs to fund programs to help soldiers cope better before their problems get out of hand, and to reduce the stigma that exists about mental disorders.
“In the military they expect people to stay in shape and they help them find ways of doing that from a physical standpoint,” said Harris.
“(But) mental health is an important part of being able to carry on and to do your job in the military.
“I think being proactive would work … to find ways to do that instead of waiting for people to show up at a clinic.”