A study released by Veterans Affairs Canada this week finally proves what many in the Veteran and military community already believed to be true: veterans have a much higher risk of taking their own lives than the average Canadian.
According to the study, “2017 Veteran Suicide Mortality Study,” the risk of suicide for male Veterans is 1.4 times higher than the general population. This means that male Veterans had a 36 per cent higher risk of dying by suicide when comparing to the general male Canadian population.
Alarming still, the most venerable group was found to be those veterans under the age of 25, who are 242 per cent more likely to die by suicide than the general population.
Even when comparing to other male veteran age groups, male Veterans aged 55 to 64 had a 36 per cent lower risk of suicide and those aged 65 or more had a 53 per cent lower risk.
The rates amongst female Veterans were also concerning. The risk of suicide for female Veterans was 1.8 times higher than that of the general female population in Canada. This translates to females having an 81 per cent higher risk of taking their own lives. Age did not play a significant factor in analyzing female suicides because of the limited sample size.
VAC’s study is being hailed as a landmark report because no such study has ever been undertaken to comprehensively assess suicide rates amongst Veterans compared to the general Canadian public. In late November, the CAF released the Surgeon General’s Suicide Mortality Report for 2017. However, these reports by the Surgeon General only look at suicide rates for members while they are in uniform.
The VAC study looked at a span of 37 years, between 1976 and 2012, of Canadian mortality data from Statistics Canada and the records of 200,734 former Canadian Armed Forces members.
The findings of the study, high risk of suicide among male Veterans, were similar to comparable studies of soldiers from the U.S., UK, and Australia.
“The Veteran Suicide Mortality Study is an important step in better understanding suicide within the Veteran community. This study complements our recently announced Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy and gives us greater perspective as we continue to build better services and supports for Veterans and their families,” said Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence.
The findings of this study will be used to create more effective suicide prevention strategies, and further studies will be done to examine the underlying factors associated with suicide, according to VAC.
Earlier this year, VAC and the CAF announced a Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy. According to VAC, this strategy will focus on the transition from military to civilian life and is particularly relevant to the veterans who were found to be at highest risk for suicide.