While questions swirl about post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) services for military personnel in light of a recent murder-suicide in Nova Scotia, experts are also raising concerns around the supports available for families of those dealing with the sometimes debilitating disorder.
Lionel Desmond, a 33-year-old military veteran, shot and killed his wife, daughter and mother before shooting himself in a triple murder-suicide in a rural Nova Scotia town Tuesday evening.
Family members say Desmond suffered from PTSD, which led him to commit the tragic act of violence, and the Nova Scotia government has launched a review into the services made available to the ex-soldier as he tried to cope with his illness.
When it comes to PTSD, though, some experts say it’s not just the person diagnosed who needs support — other family members need to be a priority too.
Vince Savoia, founder and executive director of TEMA, an organization dedicated to helping military and public safety personnel and their families deal with mental health injuries like PTSD, says there needs to be more education for families, including on the realities and stressors of the jobs.
“Even though we’ve been preaching this for years, it’s few and far between for the organizations who teach partners about PTSD,” Savoia said.
He added that communication is key for families, and he advises people not to “take things personally,” as it may foster anger and resentment.
“People with PTSD will want to push you away. Their defense is to be alone, they crave that,” Savoia said.
Situation indicative of a deeper issue: professor
Facebook posts by Lionel Desmond in December suggest he’d shown violence towards his family, something Mount Allison University sociology professor Adrath Whynacht says may point to a larger issue — intimate partner homicide.
“We know the research on PTSD … studies do show an elevated risk of violence for veterans returning home from war,” Whynacht said.
“When you take those studies that show an elevated risk of violence with PTSD and you control out those other factors, PTSD on its own is not linked to family violence, it’s not linked to intimate partner and family homicide.”
Whynacht said the issue goes beyond supports for veterans, to family members of individuals living with PTSD, and highlights the fact that society needs to be careful when making assumptions about people living with PTSD and how they deal with that mental illness.
“I think if we truly want to honour our veterans, and we want to truly honour the struggle our veterans are having today with their mental health … I think we really need to be careful about making an easy assumption that PTSD, with this particular veteran, caused him to murder his family.”
“There are a lot of folks who take their own life and they don’t take their families with them. And there has to be a question around what is it that made you think that you could or should take the lives of the three women who you were closest to.”
Whynacht said there also needs to be more services in Nova Scotia for those dealing with mental health issues, like PTSD, to potentially prevent tragedies such as this one.
Families as a whole need more support
Heather Byrne, executive director at Alice housing in Halifax, said she hopes other circumstances, such as family violence, are considered as more details are revealed about the Desmond murder-suicide investigation.
“The complicated part about intimate partner violence is the person that’s perpetrating violence against you, you love them, and you love them profoundly, and they’re part of your family,” Byrne said.
“There are certainly services for women here, I don’t think we have enough services for men. I think what we have to do is listen to women, and hear them and believe them right off the bat.
“And we have to have more services for men who’ve experienced trauma in their lives, there’s lots of men who are carrying around trauma … that are really feeding some of these anger issues that are being taken out on their intimate partners, that are not getting talked about, that are not getting addressed because the services are just not there.”
— With files from Jennifer Grudic and Nicole Bogart, Global News and The Canadian Press.
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. For a list of available mental health programs and services around Canada, please refer to the list here.