The number of soldiers and RCMP officers suffering from mental health injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder has skyrocketed over the last six years, driven in part by the gruelling decade-long combat mission in Afghanistan.
Data provided to CBC News Network's Power & Politics from Veterans Affairs Canada shows the number of veterans, soldiers and federal police officers receiving disability benefits for mental health conditions has swelled to 16,206 at last count, from just over 11,050 in 2008. That marks an increase of 47 per cent.
Second World War and Korean War vets with mental health problems is the only group that saw their caseload decline, and that is due to an aging population. There are now 1,932 “traditional” veterans of that era with PTSD and other mental disorders, down from 3,036 six years ago.
Canadian Armed Forces personnel – including those still serving and out of uniform – have seen the biggest jump, from 6,587 in 2008 to the current 11,600. The number in this group who have served in Afghanistan has climbed from 697 in 2008 to 3,411.
Veterans Affairs did not have a figure immediately available on the costs of benefits and services to individuals with mental conditions, but the Defence Department spends about $50 million a year on mental health services.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay has described the care of ill and injured soldiers as his “number 1 priority.”
A statement from MacKay’s office to CBC News said the Armed Forces has made “tremendous strides” in supporting personnel who suffer from deployment-related mental health conditions like PTSD.
“Post-traumatic stress disorder and depression are a priority focus for military health programs because they are the most common operational stress injuries,” he said. “Canada is now recognized as a world leader in fighting stigmatization and raising awareness of mental health illnesses. In fact, we have the greatest ratio of mental health care workers to soldiers in NATO.”
The data also shows the number of Mounties suffering with mental disorder has also spiked to 2,674 cases from 1,427 in the last six years.
In any given year, one in five people in Canada has a mental health problem or illness.
Of the 6.7 million people who have a mental health problem, about one million are children and teenagers between nine and 19 years old.
Mental health problems cost at least $50 billion a year, or 2.8 per cent of gross domestic product, not including the costs to the criminal justice system or the child welfare system.
In 2011, about $42.3 billion was spent in Canada on treatment, care and support for people with mental health problems.
Mental health problems account for about 30 per cent of short- and long-term disability claims.
If just a small percentage of mental health problems in children could be prevented, the savings would be in the billions.