Cdn soldiers suffering mental-health problems after Afghanistan
by Edmonton Sun
But even with this latest information, the military admits it still has little understanding of how many troops might be affected by the rigours of war and operational stress over the long haul.
About 28 per cent of the 2,700 Canadian Forces soldiers who were screened after serving in the war-torn country were found to have symptoms of one or more mental-health problems, including depression, panic disorders and suicidal tendencies.
Of those, 17 per cent exhibited signs of high-risk drinking, about five per cent showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and another five per cent had symptoms of major depression.
“It’s significant, but it’s commensurate with the difficult nature of the operation,” Dr. Mark Zamorski, head of the military’s deployment health section, said in an interview from Ottawa about the data he compiled in August.
“It’s concerning because we ask our members to put a lot on the line.”
The military might also be capturing only a small number of troops suffering from mental-health problems, because it lacks a comprehensive information system that both tracks soldiers’ health over a long period of time and gathers data from all sources.
Soldiers are supposed to undergo screening sometime between 90 to 180 days after they return home from their deployment. But if they develop mental-health problems after that period, they won’t be included in Zamorski’s data.
“We realize that this is a weakness and we are working to try to develop a system to do it, but that is very difficult information to collect accurately,” he said.
“This information does allow us to know what the cost of the conflict is in human terms, and that is something I would like to know and I presume politicians who make decisions about conflicts would want to know.”
It is a challenge to collect accurate and complete data on soldiers for many reasons, Zamorski said.
A lot of the military and civilian programs offering care for Forces members are confidential, some people don’t seek care, others leave the military and can no longer be tracked, and some seek treatment privately.
It’s not clear how many serving members are being treated for mental-health issues, but an official with Veterans Affairs said that since the Afghan mission began five years ago, the number of clients receiving care for PTSD at the department’s clinics has risen to 6,500 from 1,800.
That figure could include vets from previous conflicts and members still in the Forces.
Zamorski said the absence of a reliable health information system makes it difficult to assess whether a relatively new series of programs for soldiers and their families is helping and, if not, what changes need to be made.
“It’s going to take a minimum of several years until we’re there, unfortunately,” he said. “There are some important questions that we just can’t answer because we don’t have access to that data.”
The military beefed up mental-health services in the wake of harsh criticism that it was failing soldiers in need of treatment following tours in Rwanda, the Balkans and Somalia.
Zamorski said the U.S. military has developed a health information system that “is far beyond where ours is,” since it is able to obtain data on reservists, veterans, current members and their families.
“They can do many, many things that we can’t,” he said.
The data Zamorski gathered indicates the majority of soldiers returning from Afghanistan are not experiencing mental-health problems, but 31 per cent said their health had deteriorated over the past year.
The bulk of people identified as having mental-health problems were already receiving care, he said, adding that his figures are not diagnoses, but just indications of problems.