Twenty-two year old Pte. Thomas Welch died by suicide in 2004, just months after returning from Afghanistan. This year, he was finally awarded the silver cross and his mother, Anita Cenerini was also named as this year’s Silver Cross Mother. She placed a wreath at the base of the National War Memorial at this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa, in honour of all the mothers who lost children due to military duty in the armed forces. Anita Cenerini is the first mother of a soldier who died by suicide who has received this honour.
Historically, the Department of Veterans Affairs was hesitant to conclude that the suicides of veterans were related to their military service. Anita Cenerini fought on behalf of her son for over a decade to have his death recognized as related to his service, and finally this perception is starting to change. The Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy is a joint effort by the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. They are introducing a peer support system, mental health awareness training, and a resilience training program. Efforts are also being made to improve current systems and expand the number of regions that services are available in.
Many veterans struggle with PTSD, thoughts of suicide, and a variety of other mental health problems. Canada is growing more aware of these issues, both in and out of the armed forces. The military is seeking to improve the mental health of soldiers and veterans by building a community of support, with access to the care they need, support in the transition to civilian life, and helping with managing stress and family. These are similar to the things all of us need. If you are struggling, do not be afraid to ask for help from your community and friends. None of us can do it alone. If we come together with respect for one another and a willingness to lift one another up, we can do incredible things. So, in honour of Pte. Thomas Welch and every other victim of suicide in Canada, let us come together and change the face of mental health in our country.