(Canadian OH&S News) — About one in six members of the Canadian Forces experienced symptoms of mental health or alcohol disorders over several months last year, a new Statistics Canada survey has revealed.
The Canadian Forces Mental Health Survey, 2013, released on Aug. 11, found that 16.5 per cent of regular, full-time members had experienced symptoms consistent with at least one of six selected disorders: major depressive episode, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. Developed by Statistics Canada in collaboration with the Department of National Defence, the survey involved about 6,700 full-time members, regardless of deployment history, and 1,500 reservists, who were deployed in Afghanistan. The members were interviewed from April to August 2013.
Major depressive episode was the most common disorder, with eight per cent of members meeting the criteria in the year prior to the survey. Episodes were defined as a period of two weeks or more with persistent depressed mood or loss of interest in normal activities, as well as symptoms such as decreased energy, changes in sleep and appetite, impaired concentration, feelings of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts.
The study noted that 5.3 per cent of members had reported symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder in the year prior to the 2013 survey, while 4.7 per cent reported symptoms consistent with generalized anxiety disorder and 3.4 per cent reported symptoms consistent with panic disorder. “These disorders cannot be added to create this rate, because the disorders are not mutually exclusive, meaning that the people may have a profile consistent with one or more of these disorders,” the survey said.
The study also found that 4.5 of regular, full-time members met the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence, with 2.5 per cent reporting symptoms consistent with alcohol abuse and two per cent with alcohol dependence. “Alcohol abuse or dependence are mutually exclusive and can be added to create the variable ‘alcohol abuse or dependence,’” the study said.
The release of the survey came on the heels of the July announcement from another federal institution — the RCMP — that it had begun tracking officer suicides, in the wake of four suicides among officers and retirees this year. “With everything that is being written about post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues within the RCMP, but also within the Canadian Forces, within Canadian society as well, we felt it important to look at the rates of suicides within the organization,” Gilles Moreau, the RCMP’s assistant commissioner and main advocate for mental health issues, said at the time. Since 2006, 31 serving or retired RCMP officers have committed suicide.
The Canadian Forces survey, including definitions of the selected disorders, is online at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/140811/dq140811a-eng.htm. Further analysis will be available in November.