Recent soldier deaths shouldn't be considered suicides: expert
Published Tuesday, January 21, 2014 10:17AM EST
An Ontario psychologist says soldiers who take their own lives after returning from combat should be considered victims of a deployment-related fatality, not suicide.
Dr. Jacques Gouws, a psychologist that specializes in treatment for military members and veterans, says if soldier suicides were treated as combat injuries, treatments and services would likely be more readily available.
"We do not in any way consider it unusual if a person had been injured in combat physically and succumb to those injuries. We consider it a deployment-related fatality," Gouws told CTV's Canada AM on Tuesday. "The same thing happens here."
On Sunday, officials confirmed that another member of the Canadian Armed Forces died of an apparent suicide.
The death follows a string of military suicides that have prompted the opposition and veterans advocates to demand action from the prime minister to address what's been described as a crisis.
Gouws said mental health is often separated from physical health, a division which is not helping slow the rate of soldier suicides.
"What happens to the body happens to the mind," he said. What happens to the brain and mind happens to the body. We need to see it as a coherent whole that needs to be treated as coherent whole."
Gouws said when a soldier is deployed to a combat zone, the brain may be affected in a slow and gradual manner, until the individual succumbs to the injury.
"The brain is an organ just like any other organ," he said, adding that the development of mental illness occurs in the same way heart disease or diabetes would.
"It starts very slowly and we're not really aware of all the symptoms until they get really severe," he said. "If we don't try to treat it right away, once we recognize (the symptoms) they will kill the person who suffers from it."
Pointing to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Gouws said it's difficult for soldiers who've served overseas to see support for the mission waning upon their return.
"When the population, the government and the political system are not supportive of what they had been doing, but instead just sidelines it or minimizes it, as happen in Vietnam, as is now happening in Afghanistan and in Iraq, there's this sense of waste, a sense of senselessness."
He said it's often at that point that returning soldiers and veterans being to struggle with emotional, moral and philosophical questions.
"That starts spreading, and it goes downhill from there."
In a statement to CTV News, Minister of National Defence Rob Nicholson said, in the wake of the suicides, the government is reviewing whether more "enhancements" are needed in services available to CF members and veterans.