2016 Expert Panel Report

Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy
Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada

In 2016, the government convened a Mental Health Expert Panel on Suicide Prevention in the Canadian Armed Forces (a follow-up to the 2010 CAF Expert Panel Report on the same subject). The Panel, chaired by
Dr. Jitender Sareen, MD, Professor and Head of Psychiatry, University of Manitoba, and co-chaired by Dr. Rakesh Jetly, Senior Psychiatrist for the Canadian Armed Forces, consisted of experts from Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Panel members reviewed existing suicide prevention programs and systems for strengths and weaknesses, shared expertise, and developed a set of 11 recommendations for strengthening suicide prevention within the CAF.

Key findings by the Expert Panel included:

  • Over the past 10 years there have been an average of 16.6 suicides deaths per year amongst CAF Regular Force and Primary Reserve serving members, combined (range 11-25). This does not include Veterans.
  • Access and availability of mental health services for serving military personnel with suicidal behavior are greater compared to the Canadian civilian population.
  • Deployment, overall, has not been found to be associated with suicidal behaviour. However, exposure to deployment-related traumatic events (combat, witnessing atrocities) shows a small, but significant association with suicidal behavior.
  • Despite efforts to reduce stigma and increase mental health services in Canada, there was agreement that in the Canadian and US general population, the prevalence of suicide has either increased over time or remained the same.
  • It is important to focus on interventions that target suicidal behaviour specifically, in addition to promoting psychological resiliency, and identifying and treating mental disorders.
  • Although there is a large body of literature on the risk factors for suicidal behaviour, prediction of individual suicidal behavior in the short-term is difficult.
  • The CAF has invested in improving access to mental health services, developed the Road to Mental Readiness Program (R2MR) to improve awareness of mental health problems and increase perceived need for care, and invested in state-of-the-art epidemiological surveys that provide cross-sectional information about the mental health needs of the Canadian population.
  • The Expert Panel noted that there are no mental health inpatient facilities within the Canadian Forces Health Services for military personnel who require hospitalization for mental health or addiction problems.

Based on these findings, the Expert Panel made 11 recommendations for action, all of which were accepted by the CAF, and which have responses in both the CAF and VAC action plans provided in this Strategy. The Expert Panel’s recommendations were:

  1. Create the position of a CAF Suicide Prevention
    Quality Improvement Coordinator
  2. Conduct a systematic review of CAF member suicides since 2010
  3. Increase suicide risk assessment and safety planning training
  4. Conduct a needs assessment for suicide-specific psychosocial interventions
  5. Consider implementing the Caring Contacts protocol following mental health crisis
  6. Review best practices for screening for mental disorders and suicidal behaviour during recruitment, and pre-deployment
  7. Create a working group to develop supports for CAF members transitioning to civilian life
  8. Offer integrated treatment of addictions and mental health disorders
  9. Consider novel methods for delivery of psychological and pharmacological interventions (i.e. technology)
  10. Encourage safe media reporting of suicides
  11. Engage patients and families in program planning

The full Expert Panel Report

The 2016 Expert Panel Report follows on the work of an earlier 2010 Expert Panel Report.

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