A different battle

Leadership says progress being made

Canada’s Armed Forces are hoping a new strategy will lead to more support for members of the military and veterans.

In a media release sent out Thursday, the Ministry of Defence said the new strategy will work to overhaul communication, education, and health care to create a community of healthy members who are properly supported.

At 15 Wing Moose Jaw, Col. Denis O’Reilly said the issue of suicide prevention is an important one for the base’s leadership.

“When we talk about mental health we are talking about our people, so it really is my primary interest,” he said.

Specifically, the Forces will be looking to hire more mental health workers so that members can be provided with care in timely manner. The strategy will also include training for Military Police so that they can better deal with people who may be experiencing traumatic episodes. The military will also be creating a transition group that will help members who are leaving the Forces make the move to civilian life.

O’Reilly said that in order to take care of the members and their families, they offer many services on the base.

“We have the standard health care system. They have full access to the provincial mental health services that are available,” he said.

This includes social workers, as well as a resource centre for families. Besides this, the base also employs a chaplin, who has received training in counselling and suicide prevention. Along with these services, O’Reilly said there is a hotline set up that members as well as employees on the base can call if they don’t feel comfortable reaching out directly.

He believes leadership is more understanding members who are dealing with mental health issues than has been the case in the past, crediting especially the current Chief of the Defence Staff, Jonathan Vance, for creating a compassionate culture. O’Reilly added that he tries to follow that lead.

“I need to communicate to my people that mental health is as important as physical health,” he said.

O’Reilly said that he himself has also been affected by what he has seen during deployments overseas, specifically the results of ethnic cleansing.

“I’ve personally been exposed to things in Kosovo, where I did need to seek help, I think the most important step is to remove any stigma,” he said.

O’Reilly felt it was important to stress that people do not need to be deployed to face issues like depression and anxiety and that it is important they understand they can ask for help.

“It’s ok. It’s ok that you’re struggling with this and we are going to help you,” he said.

Maryse Carmichael is a retired member of the Armed Forces who spent 22 years in the Air Force.

She hoped the program will bring a new focus and help in supporting not only active members, but also family members. She said the increased focus on mental health in the military is a byproduct of changes in larger society.

“In Canadian society overall, there has been an increased awareness of mental health,” she said.

Carmichael said she has personally seen many of these changes first hand. Along with these announced changes, Carmichael was also happy to see the military working closely with Veterans Affairs Canada.

“It’s good to see they are looking after them not only while they are serving but after also,” she said.