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Trends in suicidal behaviour and use of mental health services in Canadian military and civilian populations [Research]

Background:

In the context of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, substantial media attention has been placed on mental health and lack of access to treatment among Canadian Forces personnel. We compared trends in the prevalence of suicidal behaviour and the use of mental health services between Canadian military personnel and the general population from 2002 to 2012/13.

Methods:

We obtained data for respondents aged 18–60 years who participated in 4 nationally representative surveys by Statistics Canada designed to permit comparisons between populations and trends over time. Surveys of the general population were conducted in 2002 (n = 25 643) and 2012 (n = 15 981); those of military personnel were conducted in 2002 (n = 5153) and 2013 (n = 6700). We assessed the lifetime and past-year prevalence of suicidal ideation, plans and attempts, as well as use of mental health services.

Results:

In 2012/13, but not in 2002, military personnel had significantly higher odds of both lifetime and past-year suicidal ideation than the civilian population (lifetime: adjusted odds ratio [OR] 1.32, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.17–1.50; past year: adjusted OR 1.34, 95% CI 1.09–1.66). The same was true for suicidal plans (lifetime: adjusted OR 1.64, 95% CI 1.35–1.99; past year: adjusted OR 1.66, 95% CI 1.18–2.33). Among respondents who reported past-year suicidal ideation, those in the military had a significantly higher past-year utilization rate of mental health services than those in the civilian population in both 2002 (adjusted OR 2.02, 95% CI 1.31–3.13) and 2012/13 (adjusted OR 3.14, 95% CI 1.86–5.28).

Interpretation:

Canadian Forces personnel had a higher prevalence of suicidal ideation and plans in 2012/13 and a higher use of mental health services in 2002 and 2012/13 than the civilian population.

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