There has been widespread discussion about the recently published Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) study entitled Deployment-Related Mental Disorders Among Canadian Forces Personnel Deployed in Support of the Mission in Afghanistan, 2001-2008.
This scientifically rigorous study is the most comprehensive and accurate to date in helping guide mental health program enhancements. As in civilian society, however, we know that not all our colleagues suffering mental disorders have yet sought care. This is why the Defence Department invests so heavily in health surveillance and in measures to reduce stigma. The result has been stigma reduction among CAF members to a level below that of our closest allies, and much lower than among Canadians generally.
The Canadian Forces Health Services are also conducting several complementary studies to better understand the mental health impact of military operations. These include a large survey with Statistics Canada to assess illness among those who have not yet sought care.
One of the CAF’s many leading-edge initiatives launched in 2009 is the Road to Mental Readiness mental health education, awareness and skills training program. It was specifically designed with the collaboration of serving operational personnel, veterans and family members to increase mental resilience, enhance the ability of CAF members and their families to recognize distress in themselves and others, and assist them in accessing care.
These investments reflect the very high priority placed on mental health by the government and by CAF leaders. Last year, Minister Peter MacKay increased the CAF mental health budget by $11.4 million, bringing it to $50 million a year. These resources permit us to further enhance our comprehensive multi-disciplinary mental health system, which is already considered a model by Canadian and allied health authorities and has had the highest ratio of mental health workers to population in NATO.
The Canadian Forces Health Services will continue to apply the best scientific methods to optimize CAF programs and to provide our members the best possible health care.
Brig.-Gen. Jean-Robert Bernier MD