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Lionel Desmond Inquiry: psychologist describes former soldier’s marital difficulties

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A former Canadian soldier who killed three family members and himself in 2017 complained about repeated head injuries soon after he left the military in 2015, an inquiry heard Thursday.

The provincial fatality inquiry, which started last year, heard testimony from psychologist Mathieu Murgatroyd, who provided mental health treatment to Lionel Desmond after he was medically released from the Canadian Armed Forces.

Murgatroyd, who worked at the occupational stress injury clinic in Fredericton, said the former corporal took part in therapy for 16 months, ending in October 2016. “Based on his presentation, the risk was more elevated in terms of spiralling down,” Murgatroyd told the inquiry, referring to his initial impression of Desmond.

In 2011, while posted to Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick, a Canadian Armed Forces psychiatrist diagnosed Desmond with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. That was four years after he served as a rifleman during a particularly violent tour of duty during the war in Afghanistan.

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Mental health professionals contracted by the military have told the inquiry that Desmond initially responded well to treatment, but that he suffered a relapse in May 2013 when military colleagues subjected him to racist comments about his African Nova Scotian heritage.

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Inquiry learns about the mental decline of Lionel Desmond

Inquiry learns about the mental decline of Lionel Desmond

Murgatroyd testified that Desmond appeared guarded and distant when they first met in June 2015 at the clinic, which receives referrals for assessments and treatment from the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada and the RCMP.

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As well, the psychologist testified that Desmond said his relationship with his wife, Shanna, was difficult. “There were moments when they seemed to be doing better, but for the most part, strained,” he said.

Murgatroyd also confirmed that Desmond had increased his alcohol consumption to deal with stress, saying the former infantryman was consuming up to 72 beers every week – though that number declined after treatment started.

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The psychologist went on to say that in April 2016, Desmond revoked his consent to allow the clinic to gather and share information with his wife.

Murgatroyd recalled that during their first treatment session, Desmond complained about nightmares, night sweats, daily intrusive thoughts, disturbed sleep, chronic pain and “homicidal thoughts without intent.”

“He hardly gets out of his house because of his paranoia,” Murgatroyd said he noted after an early therapy session in 2015.

As well, Desmond said he had suffered a number of head injuries while serving in the military, and that he worried about a possible brain injury. The inquiry has heard that the former corporal did not disclose this concern while receiving treatment from mental health professionals contracted by the military.

After he completed treatment with Murgatroyd in the fall of 2016, Desmond told his Veterans Affairs caseworker he planned to move home to Nova Scotia. That prompted a recommendation for him to take part in a six-month residential treatment program at Ste. Anne’s Hospital in Montreal.

The inquiry has heard that he left the program three months early and returned home to Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., in August 2016. Evidence presented to the inquiry has shown Desmond received no therapeutic treatment for the next four months.

On Jan. 3, 2017, he bought a semi-automatic rifle and later that day fatally shot his 31-year-old wife, their 10-year-daughter, Aaliyah, and his 52-year-old mother, Brenda, before killing himself in the family’s home.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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