It’s been heartbreaking to report on the tragic suicides of 7 Canadian soldiers in as many weeks. Many of them were young with new families, like 28 year old Cpl. Camilo Sanhueza-Martinez, a reservist belonging to The Princess of Wales’ Own Regiment based in Kingston, Ont., who was discovered in his apartment last week.
The military told me Martinez had no medical history of mental illness, or PTSD. But health experts say the symptoms of mental illness can take years to fester, and the smallest thing can trigger thoughts and feelings that lead to tragedy.
For Cpl. Leona MacEchern, it seemed the stress of dealing with her treatment resulted in a horrific “final desperate act”. Her husband tells me she purposely drove into into an oncoming semi-truck on Christmas Day.
He says his wife – a 20 year veteran of the service – had been battling Veterans Affairs over benefits stemming from dental work going back decades. You can read his full statement here.
Ever since I first reported on the rash of suicides in the military in November, I’ve been flooded with emails and calls from veterans and/or soldiers who’ve been dealing with the aftermath of war. But this email stands out:
“After reading your report about suicide and mental health in the military, the article about Corporal Leona MacEachern, and her family’s statement, I am hoping that you can pass along my deepest sympathies to the MacEachern family. I wish I could have known her so that I could give her a hug, tell her that I know what she is going through because I have also been through that hell, and tell her that it does get better.
A year ago about this time of year, I was commuting an hour each way on the highway. I would drive to work and think about crossing over in to the path of a semi. The only thing that stopped me was wondering if it would be a ‘successful suicide’ or not.
I am the mother of four children and married to a Canadian soldier. Like Corporal MacEachern, I also thought that ending my life would help my family. They would receive a large life insurance payment and not have to put up with me anymore.
I sought help through my work’s Employee Assistance Program, but the counsellors they put me in touch with were not helpful at all. One counsellor said that she thought I had ADD. I told her that even if that was the case, I did not want to live anymore, so what did it matter?
I remember walking my son in his stroller, thankful that it was raining so that no one would see my cry, knowing that I was not going to make it. I did not know why I was so sad. I was angry and frustrated with myself for feeling this way and the help I sought through EAP and the Community for Mental Health was not helping. Finally I called two psychologists. One called me back. The other didn’t. He said that he had many patients and there was a waiting list but he could see me in a few months.
I took a deep breath and said that I wouldn’t last that long.
Fortunately for me he agreed to see me that Friday. It was three days. I agreed to wait three days. The days were unbearable, just like every other day, but I made it. That was June 15th, 2013. I have been seeing him on a weekly basis ever since and working on the issues that eventually led me to a deep and dark pit of despair. My recovery from my major depressive episode has been a long and painful process, but I am feeling much better and expect to return to work soon.
I would like to help other people, like Corporal Leona MacEachern, that are struggling.”
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.
The Canadian Forces needs to take the mental health of their soldiers AND their families more seriously. They are ruining lives and not caring. Soldiers going to seek medical help for mental illnesses are getting told to “suck it up” and this is UNBELIEVABLE and UNACCEPTABLE! Please someone help us shed some light on this situation! I have a story for you, we need your help, Richard, please. Please contact me, I have sent you my story.