The Government of Canada is committed to protecting and enhancing the health and well-being of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members. Today, the Department of National Defence and the CAF announced the release of the findings from the 2016 Mental Health Expert Panel report on Suicide Prevention in the Canadian Armed Forces.
The panel found that the CAF has a strong suicide prevention program and that access and availability of mental health services for serving military personnel are greater than the Canadian civilian population. The panel provided a total of 11 recommendations, all of which the CAF has accepted. The most important of these recommendations was the need to create a new position: Canadian Armed Forces Suicide Prevention Quality Improvement Coordinator.
Canada’s new Defence Policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged, will improve the health and resilience of CAF members by ensuring the Canadian Armed Forces Health System meets the unique mental health needs of our personnel effectively and efficiently. This includes growing the Medical Services Branch, working with Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) to implement a joint suicide prevention strategy, and removing barriers to care so that military members feel able to seek appropriate help when and where they need it.
“I thank the Expert Panel for their thorough assessment and welcome their very thoughtful and helpful recommendations. We have accepted all of the recommendations, as they will enhance the high quality mental health services and suicide prevention program supporting our Canadian Armed Forces.”
Brigadier-General Colin MacKay, Surgeon General
“The panel did an excellent job of identifying areas for improvement. The report is important as it helps us to shape and improve the already effective programs and services we offer to CAF members, moving forward.”
Colonel Rakesh Jetly, Senior Psychiatrist
• The CAF Surgeon General convened the CAF Expert Panel on Suicide Prevention from October 23-26, 2016. Over three days, CAF and external experts reviewed and evaluated the CAF’s suicide prevention activities.
• The panel made 11 recommendations for improving the approach to suicide prevention to complement and enhance the existing programs and services. These include the following:
◦ create a new position: Canadian Armed Forces Suicide Prevention Quality Improvement Coordinator;
◦ conduct a systematic multi-disciplinary review of CAF member suicides over the last seven years;
◦ increase suicide risk assessment and safety planning training for primary care and specialty mental health care staff;
◦ conduct a needs assessment with regards to training in suicide-specific psychosocial interventions for people with a history of self-harm;
◦ consider implementing the Caring Contacts protocol after a mental health crisis;
◦ review best practices for screening for mental disorders and suicidal behaviour during recruitment, pre-deployment, and post-deployment;
◦ create a working group to develop optimal suicide prevention and well-being support strategies specifically for CAF members and Veterans who are in in transition from military to civilian life;
◦ consider evidence-based treatments that allow for integrated, rather than sequential, treatment of addictions and mental health disorders;
◦ consider options for delivery of psychological and pharmacological interventions through novel delivery methods (internet, telephone, classroom) to improve accessibility for CAF members;
◦ engage patients and families in treatment and program planning; and
◦ encourage safe media reporting on suicides to Canadian reporters, editors, and journalists.
The 2016 Mental Health Expert Panel report on Suicide Prevention in the Canadian Armed Forces is one example of increased commitment to support for the health and resilience of military personnel, which was identified as a priority in Canada’s new defence policy – Strong, Secure, Engaged.