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The military and mental health

Jan 29, 2020
As National Silver Cross Mother, Mrs. Samson Dawe shares her thoughts related to mental health and the military.

By: Reine Samson Dawe

SCM 2019_Reine Samson DaweReine Samson Dawe was selected by The Royal Canadian Legion as the National Silver Cross Mother, and will serve in that role until October 2020. On November 11, 2019, she placed a wreath at Canada’s National War Memorial on behalf of all mothers and families who have lost a child in the line of military duty. Her son Matthew was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2007. Here, Samson Dawe shares her thoughts related to mental health and the military.

The awareness of mental health and more specifically mental disorders has, over the last few years, increased appreciably. 

Mental disorders have been, for a long time, taboo. As a result, they have often been under diagnosed and poorly addressed due to lack of consultation, acceptance and fear of rejection. 

I believe the culture of the military is by nature, more susceptible to these issues.

The team spirit, not letting your “brothers or sisters” down, the mental and physical toughness inherent and expected of  soldiers, are all contributing factors to the stigma of mental health challenges  among soldiers.

The extreme conditions surrounding the deployment of military personnel in combat zones are very real: such stressors as witnessing horrific events, the loss of a fellow soldier, and survivor’s guilt can all create a perfect storm for the development of mental health challenges.

I only have anecdotal evidence of some of these issues but they can include depression, uncontrolled anger, and substance abuse. These problems can negatively affect the reintegration of a soldier into a home environment.

Our  Veterans need and deserve solid support during these difficult times; as someone who has witnessed military life for decades, I believe this support should include early and ongoing psychological assessment post deployment, and treatment when deemed necessary by a health professional. It should also address the financial and legal issues arising from mental health problems (such as custody battles or criminal charges that may be ultimately related to the stress of deployment), ensuring that the individuals affected are well supported by military experts preferably, throughout their recovery: family counsellors, financial advisers, lawyers and others.

There must also be ongoing education of both military personnel and the public at large, in an effort to gradually eradicate the stigma associated with mental health problems.

I appreciate that our military has made giant steps in taking care of our Veterans’ mental health, but I think there is likely more to be done and I hope that it will continue. Our Veterans deserve it.