Today in Canada a very welcome national conversation is happening on the subject of mental health.  As part of that conversation, You can follow it on T|witter using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. It’s very encouraging to see the Canadian Armed Forces taking this conversation seriously.

As part of that conversation, the Globe and Mail is reporting on a study, “conducted by the Department of National Defence and the University of Manitoba, (which) found that exposure to child abuse and trauma among soldiers is proportionally higher than in the civilian population.”  (See also CBC coverage of the study here).

The study finds that that exposure to childhood abuse for members of the Regular Force is “47.7 per cent – and higher still in reserve forces with 49.4 per cent, compared with 33.1 per cent in the Canadian general population”.

The study does not speculate why these percentages are higher than in the general population.

My immediate reaction to these figures is that they may be explainable, at least in part, due to the fact that military service tends to run within families.   Military families are prone to stressors – frequent absence of parents (usually the father) due to deployments and training, separation from extended families and other support networks due to frequent postings, alcholism and divorce.   If a father has a mental health injury due to experiences of combat or time in war zones, and never sought diagnosis or treatment, that can only exacerbate the problem.

My own father was a veteran of NW Europe (WW2) and Korea, and spent almost thirty years in what we today would call the old Army.  His father was also a professional soldier who served with the US and Canadian armies and saw in the Spanish American War, the Moro Insurgency in the Philippines, and then the First World War, when he was wounded multiple times.  I never met my paternal grandfather, and dad never talked much of him.  One photo of the two of them survives.  Grandad is a big burly man, his arm resting on the slender shoulders of my dad, who was then perhaps ten years old.  Grandad is a big presence in that photo.  I have no idea what my dad’s childhood experience of him was.

I love my Dad and respect him, and whatever demons he carried, he kept them at bay most days, but during my childhood he was a functional alcholic who could turn mean.   Mine wasn’t a bad childhood, and my own experience of abuse was doubtless far less than many.  But, as a third generation soldier, I can look back and identify a chain of mental health issues that went largely unrecognized and unaddressed. 

So if you’re part of a multigenerational family, it’s important to examine and deal with your past and your family of origin issues, because you’ve got enough weight in your rucksack as it is.