04/30/2012 07:26 EDT | Updated 06/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Canada Military Suicides Rise As Troops Return From Afghanistan


OTTAWA - The number of suicides in the Canadian military rose last year as thousands of soldiers returned home from the battlefields of Afghanistan.

The Department of National Defence says 19 men and one woman died by suicide in the Canadian Forces in 2011, up from 12 in 2010.

The department cautions against reading too much into the statistics, saying there's no proof they signal an upward trend.

In a statement on their website, the department says suicide rates among serving military personnel are lower than those of the Canadian population.

According to statistics provided by the military, 187 soldiers have committed suicide since 1996.

That's more than the number of soldiers killed during the 10 years Canadians spent fighting the war in Afghanistan; of the 158 soldiers who died, at least three are believed to have committed suicide in the field.

Canada's combat role in Kandahar ended in the summer of 2011, though there are still several hundred troops training Afghan forces.

A recent parliamentary study estimated that almost 3,000 of the soldiers who served there can be expected to suffer from a severe form of post-traumatic stress disorder and 6,500 will suffer from mental health issues.

The study said the risk of suicide is a major concern with stress-related injuries. And while the rate of suicide among serving soldiers is less than the population, a study done by the military did find that former soldiers have a higher risk of suicide than average Canadians.

The Canadian Forces have increased mental health screening and awareness programs since 2009 and returning soldiers must attend post-deployment sessions with mental health staff.

But Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natyncyzk told a Senate committee that even using the gold standard of recruitment and all the screening techniques available, it's impossible to identify all soldiers who are vulnerable.

"One suicide is too many," Natyncyzk told the committee Monday.

"And we have too many every year."

Are you in crisis? Need help? In Canada, find links and numbers to 24-hour suicide crisis lines in your province here.

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