Shield, Sense and Support: Actions from Leadership


Excerpt from Senior Leaders Guide - Key Role of Leaders:

"The single most important psychological factor affecting the fighting ability of a squad or platoon is without a doubt the quality of its leaders." (Watson, P. 1978)

Leaders have a critical role to play in the development of their soldiers’ mental health. This not only includes providing the appropriate command climate that fosters the growth of resilience within the organization but to also tend to the needs of subordinates when required. A leader, regardless of rank can foster this climate by first setting the example during periods of intense stress. When a given organization comes under extreme stress, such as combat operations, subordinates will look to their leader at the moment of truth searching for the reassurance that they are being well led and that their welfare is being taken care of while successfully completing the mission.

Much in the same way soldiers are responsible for ensuring that their weapons are always in good working order, leaders must ensure that soldiers are working to maintain good mental health and addressing any issues as they arise. Leaders’ roles and responsibilities change as a CAF member moves along the Mental Health continuum. Below is a list of leader actions in each phase of the Mental Health continuum.



  • Lead by example
  • Get to know your personnel
  • Foster healthy climate
  • Identify and resolve problems early
  • Deal with performance issues promptly
  • Demonstrate genuine concern
  • Provide opportunities for rest
  • Provide mental health first aid after adverse situations
  • Provide realistic training opportunities

Reacting and Injured


  • Lead to Be the Resilience Reserve
  • Watch for behaviour changes
  • Adjust workload as required
  • Know the resources & how to access them
  • Reduce barriers to help-seeking
  • Encourage early access care
  • Consult with Chain of Command / Health Services as required



  • Involve mental health resources
  • Demonstrate genuine concern
  • Respect confidentiality
  • Minimize rumours
  • Respect medical employment limitations
  • Appropriately employ personnel
  • Maintain respectful contact
  • Involve members in social support
  • Seek consultation as needed
  • Manage unacceptable behaviours

Leader actions can be divided into three categories: shield, sense, and support.

Shielding actions are those that enhance the capacity of subordinates, both individually and collectively, to cope with stressors in order to maintain if not to improve individual mental health and the collective fighting spirit. Part of this includes fostering a healthy climate. The mental health of a workplace can determine more than just morale and cohesion; a healthy work environment directly contributes to the overall effectiveness of any team, whether in garrison or deployed. As well, other preventative strategies, such as realistic training based on stress inoculation principles are also important and covered during the R2MR training.

Sensing actions are those that focus on early recognition and assistance for subordinates in the area of mental health. Actions include knowing what actions to take following exposure to Potentially Traumatic Events (PTEs), being able to identify the signs and symptoms indicative that subordinates require assistance, and ensuring early access to appropriate care.

Support actions involve leadership actions that directly support their subordinates that are seeking mental health care. Leaders should leave the "CARE" to the appropriate Mental Health specialists, but should foster the appropriate climate/environment for the healing process to include reducing stigma. Leaders are provided with training that specifically addresses some special considerations such as potentially traumatizing events (PTE’s), addictions, suicide and violence.

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