At least 54 Canadian military members have committed suicide since 2014, though experts warn that number may be higher due to a lack of reporting.
Fifteen military members took their lives in 2016, according to the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, an organization which tracks suicides among firefighters, police officers, paramedics, correctional officers and other first responders.
Now, just days into 2017, another member of the Canadian Forces has taken his.
On Tuesday, four people were found dead in a Nova Scotia home; the victims were identified as 33-year-old military veteran Lionel Desmond, his wife Shanna Desmond, 31, their 10-year-old daughter, Aliyah, and his mother, Brenda, 52.
Desmond was a member of the Canadian Forces and had recently served in Afghanistan, Catherine Hartline, Shanna Desmond’s aunt told Global News. After returning to Canada, he had sought treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“He didn’t get the help. He should have had the professional help he needed and it was not done right away. When the man showed the signs he should have been put somewhere to have a full recovery,” Hartline said.
RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said in a release that Lionel Desmond’s wounds “appear to be self-inflicted,” and that an autopsy will be done by the Medical Examiner to determine the exact cause of death.
Clarke added that investigators found two firearms at the home, and continue to search the scene.
“I would have never, ever thought this would happen. He showed signs of acting out but he didn’t seem violent,” she said. “It’s heart wrenching.”
Tema Counter Memorial Trust Director Vince Savoia said while the organization’s numbers from 2014 and 2015 are accurate, thanks to the military’s reporting of suicide, the number of suicides reported in 2016 are based on media reports and cases that have been flagged to the organization.
According to Tema’s data, 17 military members died by suicide in 2015 and another 22 in 2014.
The Canadian Armed Forces directed Global News to its own suicide data, which varied slightly from Tema’s. According to the Canadian Forces, 13 regular force and 3 reserve force died by suicide in 2016, 15 regular force and 3 reserve force in 2015 and another 17 regular force and 4 reserve force in 2014.
“There may be more,” Savoia noted. “When it comes to PTSD, [the military] estimates no more than five per cent of their members will be diagnosed. In the Canadian population we are looking at a rate of 8 per cent – so I sometimes question the numbers.”
In 2015, the Canadian Forces published a study tracking suicide rates among male Regular Force members of Canada’s military from 1995 to 2014. The study found members of the army were 3.4 times more likely to kill themselves than non-army members of Canada’s Armed Forces and at least 50 per cent more likely to kill themselves than the average Canadian of the same gender and age.
The report found there was no “statistically significant increases in suicide rates” in regular force male members when compared to male suicide rates in the general population.
In August, a Globe and Mail investigation found that at least 70 soldiers and veterans had killed themselves after serving in the Afghanistan War. The number came from email records created by the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces in 2014 in response to questions from The Globe. Neither organization would release an official suicide count.
Savoia, who sought treatment for PTSD after his career as a paramedic, noted that Canadian military members are still very reluctant to come forward and report mental health struggles.
“They are still plagued by the stigma that it’s weak to ask for help,” he said. “The ones that do ask for help don’t necessarily receive the care and help that’s provided.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911. 911 can send immediate help. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.
– With files from Heide Pearson, Natasha Pace and Global News
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.