Mental Health Services in the Canadian Forces

Backgrounder / September 12, 2012 / Project number: BG - 12.043

The health needs, including the mental health needs, of military personnel are very important for the Government of Canada and the Canadian Forces (CF). Significant investment has been made by the CF to ensure personnel receive the highest standard of mental healthcare possible wherever they serve.

In 2012, the Government identified and announced an additional $11.4 million investment to enhance the CF’s extensive mental healthcare system, in order to target wait times through innovative recruitment campaigns for health care professionals and treatment approaches for patients. This investment will supplement the $38.6 million spent annually to provide mental health care to CF personnel.

In addition, from 2003 to 2009, $98 million was committed under the Mental Health Initiative to permit the hiring of up to 218 additional mental health practitioners to raise the total of mental health professionals within the Department of National Defence and the CF to 447.

The CF continue to work toward that goal and currently, mental health programs are delivered by approximately 378 military and civilian mental health providers plus additional support staff.

As well, a significant amount of mental health care is delivered by primary care providers. The mental health of CF members is continually assessed through regular periodic medical check-ups. Screening questions pertaining to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, addiction, suicide, and other mental health conditions are routinely asked and responses are recorded as part of regular examinations.

The CF have a wide variety of mental health services and programs available to their members. These services are delivered through:

  • twenty-six Mental Health Clinics at bases across Canada. These clinics vary in size depending on the size of the base they support. The smallest would provide psycho-social services through a social worker. The five largest mental health clinics are the regional clinics (Halifax, Valcartier, Ottawa, Edmonton, and Esquimalt). These clinics provide a full range of care, including general mental healthcare, operational trauma and stress support, psycho-social services, and addictions counselling; and
  • seven Operational Trauma and Stress Support Centres (OTSSCs). These facilities are centres of excellence in areas such as PTSD. The centres have four mandates —assessment, treatment, outreach (education), and research. These centres are located in Edmonton, Esquimalt, Gagetown, Halifax, Ottawa, Petawawa and Valcartier. For more information, please visit: http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/caf-community-health-services-mental/index.page?#otssc

Deployment mental health

The CF recognize the need for a robust pre- and post-deployment mental health program in order to ensure personnel and their families are best equipped for the stressors associated with deployment. This program includes:

  • a mental health screening as part of the pre-deployment medical assessment.
  • a pre-deployment psychosocial screening by either a chaplain or a mental health professional.
  • participation in the CF’s pre-deployment mental health training program -- The Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR). The program combines classroom and interactive learning to help participants understand:
    • the impact of deployment on mental health;
    • the physiological reaction to stress and how to mitigate it;
    • the importance and application of goal setting, visualization, self talk, and stress management;
    • the challenges that may be encountered while deployed and their potential impact;
    • the impact of values, beliefs, and meaning in mental readiness;
    • the importance of a social support system;
    • the role of leaders in managing stress in their subordinates; and
    • family stressors associated with deployment (family members are provided an educational briefing as well to assist them in managing the stress associated with deployment).

For more information on R2MR, please visit the program website: http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/caf-community-health-services-r2mr/index.page?

  • the opportunity to consult with mental health care providers in-theatre.
  • the CF’s five-day Third Location Decompression (TLD) program, where each deployed person is encouraged to speak to a mental health professional and to raise any concerns that they may have.
  • access to a full range of mental health services and programs upon return to Canada.
  • the Enhanced Post-deployment Screening Process three and six months after return to Canada (for all CF personnel returning from an international operation of 60 or more days in duration).

It is important to note that individuals are continually encouraged to seek help throughout the deployment cycle. The CF are finding that one-half of those who require mental health follow-up based on the results of their post-deployment screening are already in treatment. Referrals can also be made directly from TLD.

Mental healthcare

The CF have a strong mental health program that provides dedicated and responsive care for ill and injured CF members and emphasizes the elimination of the barriers to mental healthcare. The CF Expert Panel on Suicide Prevention, held in Halifax in September 2009, found that the CF have a robust mental health program in place that compares most favourably to those of their closest allies.

Mental health care in the CF is guided by evidence-based practices and is delivered through multidisciplinary teams including primary care clinicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses, addictions counsellors, and chaplains.

The CF offer comprehensive treatment to their personnel including unlimited psychotherapy and access to medication as required. When in-patient care is necessary, the CF have long-standing relationships with civilian healthcare facilities to ensure that personnel get the care they need.

The CF’s mental health program has been recognized among its NATO allies and by civilian organizations for its robust approach to care, its stigma reduction initiatives, its mental health research and its mental health training and awareness programs. The CF will continue to work with their allies and partners in civilian healthcare to determine the best treatment, awareness and prevention approaches for our population.

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