I am Major-General Marc Bilodeau, Surgeon General of the Canadian Armed Forces. The pandemic has affected our daily routines; physical distancing has replaced crowds of people and mask wearing has become the new normal. The pandemic has taken a toll on many people’s well-being, and in some cases this extends to challenges with their mental health. Other events, such as the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan, and the troubling revelations about conduct and culture within our institution are also adding to the numerous stressors imposed on our Defence Team. It has become more important than ever to support one another.
A healthy body and mind are essential for our overall good health. We must accept that it is the responsibility of each of us to monitor our lifestyles and determine what changes are needed. Not being able to recognize the signs of mental illness in ourselves and others is only one of many barriers that prevent some people from seeking support and care. We all have a role to play in removing these barriers. We must therefore take action to increase awareness about mental illness and do our part to reduce stigma by talking openly about mental health. There is no shame in using the resources that are available to us, and so many advantages to sharing them with those around us.
As we participate in the 12th annual Bell Let’s Talk Campaign, we want our Defence Team to know how important it is to “continue to support yourself and others” as we navigate the various challenges presented to us by the COVID-19 pandemic and the other challenges our organization has experienced in the last year. The support you extend to those around you, and the help you seek for yourself, can make all the difference. Remember, if in need, take the opportunity to talk to someone in your social support network including family, friends, colleagues, chaplains or health care professionals. If you see someone struggling to cope, offer to help them with a task, direct them to care resources or simply offer to listen to their concerns. These gestures may seem small, but can change the course of someone’s day entirely
There is a wide variety of mental health and wellness resources available to Canadian Armed Forces members, the cornerstone of which is access to a mental health system founded in primary care and augmented by specialty mental health care teams. Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses, addiction counsellors, chaplains, and community health care providers are available to provide support when you need it. I encourage civilian personnel to use Employee Assistance Services and Canadian Armed Forces members and their families to use the Canadian Forces Members Assistance Program. These confidential support and crisis services are available to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Know that you are never alone, and that help is always available to keep our Defence Team healthy.
Lastly, our leadership plays a key role with regard to employee wellness, and it has the responsibility to protect the safety and health of employees, which includes their mental health. Often, the demands and pace of our work can be overwhelming, in particular in unprecedented circumstances such as the pandemic. I encourage all managers and supervisors to live by example, by taking care of their co-workers, both at the workplace and in a remote work context, by maintaining an open dialogue with employees and by applying healthy management practices, keeping an open mind about a progressive return to the workplace and encouraging a psychologically safe work environment. This should be done with a proper understanding of behaviour that encourages teams and a positive and healthy work environment. These are easy ways to show and offer your support to those around you, and to mitigate certain stressors in order to optimize work-related mental health.
The wellness of all Defence Team members is a departmental priority. As such, we continue to be proud of participating in the Bell Let’s Talk initiative to support mental health. I encourage you to take some time for yourself to participate in this year’s Bell Let’s Talk Day. Help us support mental health, because together, we can all make a difference.