Canadian Armed Forces Suicide Prevention Action Plan

The act of “suicide” is defined as, to “end one’s own life intentionally”. It is a tragedy, by any measure, when someone feels they have no other option than to take their own life. Unfortunately, the tragedy does not rest only with the individual who has died by suicide. As emphasized within the Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention (2016), “Deaths by suicide have a devastating and immeasurable impact and leave families, friends, classmates, coworkers and communities struggling with grief and searching for solutions”. While suicide itself is quite rare, the phenomena of suicide attempts (when individuals survive after deliberately taking action to end their lives) and suicide ideation (having thoughts about suicide) are much more common. Collectively, suicide, suicide attempts, and suicide ideation are defined as “suicidality”- the prevention of which is the target of this action plan.  

It is understood that military service creates unique stressors on members and their families both during and after their years of service, which is why the Prime Minister of Canada provided mandate letters directing the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) to produce a joint suicide prevention strategy for both CAF members and Veterans. In keeping with Canada’s Defence Policy: Strong, Secure, Engaged, a joint strategic framework will ensure CAF members, Veterans, and families are well-supported and resilient – physically, psychologically, and socially. The Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy was developed collaboratively by CAF and VAC and provides the vision, mission, guiding principles, and major lines of effort (LoEs) that give direction to this CAF Suicide Prevention Action Plan (SPAP). This SPAP should be read in conjunction with the joint strategy.

In the development of the CAF & VAC Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy, it was recognized that there are significant differences between the two distinct populations that are CAF members and Veterans. First, each department has its own specific regulatory and policy frameworks. Second, CAF members and Veterans have their own unique lifestyles, environments, resources, stressors, risks and protective factors. Finally, CAF members’ and Veterans’ access to health care and support resources are quite different and distinct. As a result, both organizations were directed to develop their own respective and unique suicide prevention action plans to:

…identify, coordinate and ensure the implementation of activities along the Suicide Prevention Continuum that advance the identified LoEs. These action plans will reflect the legislative mandates and responsibilities of CAF and VAC, and be tailored to meet both the unique needs of CAF members and Veterans. At the same time, we expect that these action plans will be developed in a collaborative and coordinated manner, and in accordance with the common guiding principles, strategic lines of effort and general planning considerations documented in this joint strategy.

As directed within the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy, collaboration with VAC has continued during the development of this CAF action plan, with particular attention paid to collaborating on the specific LoE, “Promoting the well-being of CAF members through their transition to civilian life,” which is a shared CAF/VAC area of responsibility. 

The SPAP will be integrated with a number of mutually supporting efforts and strategies. Primary among these is the Department of National Defence (DND) & CAF Total Health and Wellness Strategy (TH&WS), which will provide over-arching direction and a coordinating function for DND/ CAF strategies related to health and wellness. Current and developing TH&W strategies, programs and initiatives that support the suicide prevention strategy include, but are not limited to:

  1. The CAF and VAC Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy and CAF SPAP;
  2. The Physical Performance Strategy;
  3. The Surgeon General’s Integrated Health Strategy;
  4. The Federal Public Service Workplace Mental Health Strategy;
  5. Operation Honour (addresses harmful and inappropriate behaviour);
  6. Alternative Dispute Resolution;
  7. The Occupational Health and Safety Program;
  8. The Chaplain General’s Spiritual Wellness Strategy;
  9. Closing the Seam (transition to civilian life);
  10. The establishment of a CAF organization to manage transition (including Integrated Personnel Support Centres [IPSCs], Return to Duty [RTD], and release management);
  11. The Road to Mental Readiness Program
  12. CAF Member Assistance Program (MAP);
  13. CAF Family Violence Awareness and Prevention Campaign; and
  14. The Military Family Support Program.

In addition, it should be emphasized that there is already a robust set of operational CAF initiatives and programs that focus on improving mental and physical health and well-being and addressing suicidal behaviour. The CAF SPAP is not starting from a blank slate nor will it seek to replicate those strategies, programs, and initiatives already being implemented. It will however identify and track these initiatives so that it is clear how the CAF SPAP exists within a holistic Total Health and Wellness model. This action plan will capture all these existing initiatives, as well as identify any current gaps or needs that should be closed through new initiatives. 

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