Canadian soldiers fight mental-health stigma

As defence officials investigate the fourth possible suicide of a Canadian soldier in just over a week, some veterans are speaking out against the difficulties of getting treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Veterans say treatment exists, but not always accessible

Canadian veteran Gerry Corbin says soldiers who admit to suffering from PTSD can face professional obstacles for the rest of their careers. (Laura Pellicer/CBC)

As defence officials investigate the fourth possible suicide of a Canadian soldier in just over a week, some veterans are speaking out against the difficulties of getting treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Gerry Corbin, a veteran living with PTSD who served for 28 years in the Canadian military, says choosing to seek help can compromise a soldier’s professional future.

“Once you go through the process of admitting you have PTSD and you start getting these resources, you get tagged in the service, you get put in a medical category. That means no promotion, no posting, no nothing — and once you’re tagged, that will follow you for the rest of your career,” Corbin told CBC Daybreak Montreal’s Mike Finnerty.

Corbin is the former regional representative for Veterans UN-NATO Canada, an association that helps veterans find resources such as mental health services.

Corbin says news of the recent suicides shows the difficulty soldiers face when suffering from mental health issues such as PTSD.

“It’s terrible. Just thinking about it, I’ve got a knot in my throat. Those people who committed the ultimate sacrifice, taking their own lives because of PTSD. It’s a sickness you can’t see,” said Corbin.

“It’s hard for me to take it, seeing these friends who commit suicide.”

Captain Mathieu Dufour, a public relations officer at the Valcartier Garrison where Master Cpl. Sylvain Lelièvre was found dead on Monday, said there are resources available on the base.

“There are plenty of services available. There's a wide spectrum of them. We're not alone here, people care about us and we take care of ourselves. The old mentality that people are strong and don't talk, that's over now,” said Dufour.

Pierre Daigle, the National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman, says money was given last year to hire more mental health professionals.

Daigle says qualified professionals are ready to work, but because of bureaucratic issues, their services haven't yet been put in place.

“There are 76 recruited, trained professionals. But they are still not within the Canadian Forces structure, and what I'm afraid of is the people will get tired and there's a potential of losing them,” said Daigle.

Corbin says he is receiving treatment with a psychologist and psychiatrist at two veterans' hospitals, though he says it takes a lot of initiative to make sure he receives treatment.

“Once you get into the system the treatments are there… but you have to push to get those appointments,” said Corbin.

“The hardest thing is to admit that you have this problem and, once you admit that you have a problem, then it’s to take action to get help.”

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