November 11, 2014 4:11 pm
Updated: November 11, 2014 8:10 pm

‘We’ve been dropping like flies’: Soldier speaks out about mental health in the military

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HALIFAX – Members of the Canadian Armed Forces, both past and current, were honoured on Remembrance Day for their service to our country, but many still face battles with their mental health.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Kerry Houghton spoke candidly with Global News about her own private battle.

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The 42-year-old from Dartmouth has been in the Armed Forces for nearly 24 years. She spent one year in Esquimalt, B.C. before being posted to Halifax. Since then, she has deployed several times to Haiti, the Adriatic Sea and countries in Europe and served on HMCS Toronto in 2010 and 2011.

It was during her time on HMCS Toronto that she began feeling overwhelmed by personal issues.

“A week prior to going on to the Toronto, my husband actually left me,” she said.

Houghton said that she was the only female in the mess at that time and didn’t have anyone to confide in.

“That’s why they get bad. You have to deal with it in order to vent it out, in order to move on. Unfortunately, at the time, I just kept it to myself,” she said.

Then she said her situation went from bad to worse; after her stint on HMCS Toronto, she was told medical issues meant she was no longer deployable.

“That was what really sunk me into my major depression,” she said.

“Sailing was my life. Once you know that’s the end you have to grieve it like a death. If you keep that to yourself and you don’t discuss it with anybody, it just eats away at your soul.”

The extrovert began to keep to herself and eventually did not want to leave her house. Houghton said she did not know where to turn for help, and her thoughts turned suicidal.

READ MORE: Veterans, advocacy groups say Canadian soldiers need mental health, transition support

“I actually swallowed two bottles of sleeping pills. It was a very low time and I was dealing with everything from PTSD to major depression to medical health problems,” she said.

“You get to the point where you feel like, I just can’t be here anymore. I don’t want to burden anyone.”

Houghton survived her suicide attempt, and a friend recognized her change in behaviour and encouraged her to seek help.

RELATED: For every suicide in the Canadian Forces, at least one attempt was recorded: documents

The sailor sought out the Joint Personnel Support Unit, a transition service for ill and injured service members, and credits it for her recovery.

“My therapist, I trust her 100 per cent. She’s been working with me for approximately two and a half years to get through all the issues that I had. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t tell other people. She’s non-judgmental,” Houghton said.

Houghton knows she is one of the lucky ones. She said a culture of fear in the military and stigma surrounding mental health mean many don’t speak up about their issues and some turn to suicide as a last resort. A rash of soldier suicides earlier this year thrust the issue into the national spotlight.

TIMELINE: Recent soldier suicides in Canada’s military

“I’ve lost so many friends to suicide. We’ve been dropping like flies,” she said.

RELATED: Harper urged to address soldier suicides as another death is reported

“It’s devastating when one of us has gone.”

READ MORE: Recent suicide points to crisis in Canadian military, say veterans advocates

She describes her life now, a year and a half after her suicide attempt, as happy and meaningful. Houghton is appealing for anyone facing mental health issues to speak up about their pain.

“If you need help, go ask for help. Don’t be like the ones we’ve lost.”

The Canadian Forces Member Assistance Program has a confidential 24/7 toll-free telephone advisory and referral service for all military personnel and their families: 1-800-268-7708.

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