Compared to British soldiers, the number of Estonian soldiers diagnosed with combat stress is significantly lower, with more limited options for counseling and social attitudes considered contributing factors.
Lieutenant Commander Toomas Kasemaa from the Defense Forces Headquarters told uudised.err.ee today that the occurrence of combat stress and other psychological problems is considerably rarer in Estonian soldiers than with their allies; even 5-10 times lower than in British troops.
In an opinion piece from 2007, the psychologist of the Defense Forces Merle Tihaste wrote that a masculine model dominates in Estonia, where complaining is frowned upon and admitting the problem is rare.
“It is possible that our society does not encourage seeking help for such ailments,” Kasemaa said, adding that another contributing factor for the higher numbers in other countries could be the financial compensations offered by the allies.
Estonia offers social and psychological counselling to soldiers who have been injured while serving, and counselling is also available to all soldiers who have the status of a veteran. Soldiers who have left the service are only entitled to the military’s counseling if they have been injured, others must seek help from the state’s health service.
According to Andrew Cameron, chief executive of British charity Combat Stress, the reaction to trauma is often delayed and the number of soldiers seeking help for mental issues could increase.
In the last 19 years, there have been 2,500 Estonian soldiers on foreign missions, and only the 130 injured are entitled to psychological counseling after they have left the service.
Eleven soldiers have lost their lives on the missions and according to Kasemaa, the criteria for “fallen in action” are limited to injuries, not complications and illnesses associated with serving on a mission. Therefore, a soldier who commits suicide after returning home is not considered fallen in action. However, at the Paldiski barracks of Scouts Battalion, the wall with photos of fallen soldiers of the A Company includes a man who took his life once he had returned from Afghanistan, a death associated with combat stress.
Veterans confidentially spoke to uudised.err.ee about the consequences of their experiences in combat, such as nightmares, headaches, anxiety attacks and insomnia, all consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.
A 29-year-old veteran told uudised.err.ee that he sees no point in seeking help because he would have to turn to his GP or a therapist for a fee, adding that he is fine and “only has trouble sleeping."
One of the most notable instances of public discussions on combat stress was sparked by the suicide of Janek Lauri, who also killed his partner and their two children in 2007. Lauri had served in Kosovo in 2004 but Tihaste said at the time that Lauri’s problems were probably not related to his work in the military. A thorough analysis conducted for the Ministry of Defense later concluded that Lauri's heavy gambling addiction was the main cause of his actions.