Canadian Forces Mental Health Survey
Network, Winter 2004
In 2002 a Mental Health Program Initiative was put in place by the Canadian Forces to address mental health care shortcomings. Its objective is to develop a mental health program that will enhance psychological fitness in the Canadian Forces and address psychological injuries possibly suffered by CF members. The mental health reform is currently in the design stage. When fully implemented the new mental health model will consist of an integrated in-garrison based mental health team, which will use an inter-disciplinary approach in providing mental health care. A summary of the main findings of the Canadian Forces 2002 Supplement of the Statistics Canada Canadian Community Health Survey can be found at www.forces.gc.ca. Details on the CCHS are available at www.statcan.ca.
A decorated Lieutenant General, Roméo Dallaire served for 35 years with the Canadian Forces (CF). His most famous command appointment was his peacekeeping and United Nations Assistance mission as Commander – United Nations Observer Mission: Uganda and Rwanda. The horrifying images and actions of that civil war have left Dallaire fighting back against his own mind, as a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Disclosure of his story in his book, Shake Hands with the Devil, published in the fall of 2003, was part of the journey he had to make to, in his own words, ‘retrieve my soul.’ One of the most vocal military personnel to bring PTSD to the attention of the public, he is now playing a leadership role in the reform of the Canadian Forces mental health system.
That there is a need for reform has been well documented. The Canadian Forces Health and Lifestyle Information Survey conducted in 2000 indicated that there was reason for concern as rates of mental health problems were found to be higher among military personnel than in the general Canadian population. ‘Our role as a military healthcare system is to understand the significant health care issues of Canadian Forces members, and to address those concerns in the most effective way possible,’ says Colonel Scott Cameron, the Canadian Forces Surgeon General. ‘Mental health concerns are every bit as significant and legitimate as physical health concerns.’
To obtain more detailed information, the Department of National Defence asked Statistics Canada to undertake a comprehensive survey of the mental health status of CF members. A special CF module was developed as a supplement to a planned Statistics Canada Canadian Community Health Survey which, for the first time, contained a significant mental health component. The results, which were released on September 5, 2003, involved a representative, randomly chosen sample of more than 5,000 Regular force members and 3,000 Reserve members and was conducted between May and December 2002. The study was designed to determine the level of need, not to investigate the causes of mental illness in CF members.
Detailed analysis has yet to be undertaken, but already the survey is considered to be ‘an important milestone for the CF mental health services,’ according to Colonel Randy Boddam, Director of Mental Health Services for the CF Health Services (CFHS).
Col. Boddam believes that improvements to the CF mental health care system will make a tangible difference in the lives of CF members. ‘We are ultimately working towards a mental health care system that is comprehensive, integrated and delivers services to a standard of excellence that results in psychologically fit members.’
‘We recognize that there is a stigma surrounding mental health that still exists in Canadian society and in the military population as well,’ says Colonel Brian O’Rourke, DCOS Health Services Delivery. ‘There are likely a lot of individuals who perhaps are suffering and have not come forward because the services were not readily available, or we were not reaching out to them at first. That’s why it is important to have the resources available for prevention, education, treatment when necessary, and rehabilitation, with the ultimate goal being to return the member back to full health and a functional member of the Canadian Forces. But when that is not possible we have to ensure that we have the systems in place to transition them to the civilian health care system.’ The changes that the Canadian Forces are looking to implement reflect the importance which is being put on disclosure by members of their forces, and the ability by the Canadian Forces to respond properly to that disclosure. In the words of Colonel O’Rourke, ‘It is important for members of the Canadian Forces that we do this and get it right.’
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