Be still for a moment.
Today is Remembrance Day.
Today we remember those who lay down their lives in the line of duty. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the hostilities of World War I formally came to an end.
Though the war might seem to be in the distant past, the sacrifices of those involved will remain alive in our collective memory. They are part of the fabric of our country; they helped weave together who we are at present and who we will be in the future.
The suffering of the victims of war is incomprehensible to those of us who have not stepped foot onto a battlefield. It is beyond our comprehension to grasp the courage it takes to lay down all of one’s rights and all that one is for the sake of one’s country.
Personalizing a Distant Past
One of the most insightful books I have read about the horrors of war is Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth. Her writings are profoundly personal as she details the emotional struggles and fears that consumed her life during World War I.
At the beginning of her book, Vera’s life seemed to be perfect. Much like many girls today, her life was filled with promise and hope. She was prepared to begin her studies at the University of Oxford, and she had met the love of her life: a charming British poet named Roland Leighton.
But her life drastically changed when Roland and her brother Edward were commissioned as officers in World War I.
Not only did Vera struggle to maintain a long-distance relationship with Roland and her brother through correspondence, but she also feared that the worst would happen to them.
Tragically, Edward was injured and killed in the battle of the Somme. And four months after Vera accepted Roalnd’s proposal of marriage, he was shot by a sniper at the age of twenty and buried in France.
Vera describes the painful and despairing reality that she faced.
Her grief was profound, yet she felt compelled to do something to bring about a positive change in the world around her. So, she decided to work as a Voluntary Aid Detachment, and she came to nurse wounded servicemen in England, Malta, and France. Sadly, the effects of war often left her disillusioned, exhausted and feeling hopeless.
But her determination to make a difference gave her the perseverance to immortalize her experiences and those she loved in a book. And today, we can learn from her courage and strength.
War and Mental Health
Vera’s courage is admirable, but throughout her life she struggled to restore her mental health.
The impact of war is long-term, as it continues to affect its participants even after returning home. The same is true for Canadian and American soldiers today. Our soldiers are prepared to sacrifice their lives, as well as their mental health, for a cause.
In Canada, about one in every four frontline soldiers sent to Afghanistan has been diagnosed with a mental health issue.
Similarly in the US, about one in every four veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has received a mental health diagnosis.
These diagnoses tend to be very serious. In 2011, a study by Cesur et al. found that soldiers in combat zones tend to display higher rates of suicidal ideation, depressive symptomatology, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers suggest that the psychological effects of war are most severe for soldiers who engage in violent combat.
The memories of war continue to haunt our soldiers even after they have safely returned to their families and friends. The emotional effects of war take time to heal and this healing process requires a healthy and supportive atmosphere.
As such, therapists and counselors should play a key role in helping veterans restore their mental health. Soldiers lay down their lives for the good of their country, and so mental health professionals should also devote their time to helping our soldiers heal from the wounds of war.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health issue after returning from war, then do not hesitate to seek support from a mental health professional.
2011. Woods, A. War takes heavy toll on Canadian soldiers' mental health, study shows. The Toronto Star. [online] Available at:<http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2011/11/15/war_takes_heavy_toll_on_canadian_soldiers_mental_health_study_shows.html>
2007. Seal et. al. Bringing the war back home: mental health disorders among 103,788 US veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan seen at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. PubMed. [online] Available at:<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17353495>
2011. Cesur et al. The Psychological Costs of War: Military Combat and Mental Health. NBER Working Paper Series. [online] Available at: <http://www.nber.org/papers/w16927.pdf?new_window=1>