Seven tips for Defence Team Members to support your mental health

October 7, 2020 - Defence Stories

Author: Capt Samantha Thompson, Canadian Forces Health Services Social Work Officer, Road to Mental Readiness Program


Mental Illness Awareness Week – Oct 4 - 10, 2020

As we commemorate Mental Illness Awareness Week, ask yourself: How well can you assess changes in your mental health and then take action to effectively remedy them? Studies show that many Canadians misread indicators of declining mental well-being and avoid seeking professional consultation and support for mental stress injuries and illnesses.

Recognizing a need and seeking care

In an analysis by Drs. Fikretoglu, Liu, Zamorski and Jetly  (available in English only) on the data from Statistics Canada’s 2002 (CAF and Canadian civilian population studies), 2012 (Canadian civilian population) and 2013 (CAF) mental health surveys concluded that “failure to perceive need for care is the leading barrier to accessing mental health care.”

This means that many Canadians living with varying levels of mental distress, struggle to manage symptoms on their own, and are often unaware that they may suffer from a health condition where treatment and resources already exist.

Here’s a list of seven helpful tips you can use to support yourself, your friends, and your family:

1. Monitor your mental health and wellbeing.

The Mental Health Continuum Model (see graphic below) is a tool designed to assist you with monitoring and identifying changes in your health. You may wish to refer to the Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) app, which is available on Google Play and Apple Store, for additional guidance and information. 

Mental Health Continuum Model
Mental Health Continuum Model

Source for infographic above

Mental Health Continuum Model - Text version

This diagram describes the range of mental health—healthy, reacting, injured and ill—and lists the behaviours associated with each part of this range.

Healthy behaviours include normal mood fluctuations, calmness and the ability to take things in stride, a good sense of humour, good performance, being in control, normal sleep patterns, few sleep difficulties, being physically well, having a good energy level, being physically and socially active, and limited or no alcohol use or gambling.

Reacting behaviours include being irritable or impatient, being nervous, being sad or overwhelmed, expressing displaced sarcasm, procrastination, forgetfulness, having trouble sleeping, having intrusive thoughts, having nightmares, having muscle tension or headaches, having low energy, decreased activity or socializing, and regular but controlled alcohol use or gambling.

Injured behaviours include anger, anxiety, pervasive sadness or hopelessness, a negative attitude, poor performance or workaholic behaviour, poor concentration or decisions, restless or disturbed sleep, recurrent images or nightmares, increased aches and pains, increased fatigue, avoidance, withdrawal, and increased alcohol use or hard-to-control gambling.

Ill behaviours include angry outbursts or aggression; excessive anxiety or panic attacks; depression or suicidal thoughts; overt insubordination; an inability to perform duties, control behaviour or concentrate; an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep; sleeping too much or too little; physical illnesses; constant fatigue; not going out or not answering phone; and an alcohol or gambling addiction or other addictions.

2. Recognize when efforts to manage symptoms on one’s own are not improving the situation.  

The following guidelines can help you identify when to seek professional medical or mental health support:

Listen to friends and family if they express concern for your wellbeing. 

3. Know that you are not alone; we all need to ask for help of various kinds throughout our lives.

According to Canada’s Public Health Agency, one in three Canadians experience mental illness during their lifetime. Many Canadians have personally dealt with mental illness, and many more have known and supported someone in their journey to recovery.

4. Avoiding care is more likely to negatively impact one’s career.

As symptoms increase and persist, it becomes more likely that our memory, concentration, decision-making ability, and overall performance will be affected.

5. Prioritize your health.

We need to invest in our health to fulfill those very responsibilities which compete for our time and energy. Putting off dealing with symptoms of a mental injury because we are “too busy” increases the likelihood that the symptoms will persist and may develop into a mental illness.

6. Consult with a health care provider to help you assess your mental wellbeing and meet your mental health needs.

Reach out to care providers and health professionals to discuss emerging concerns and get connected with the appropriate resources and service providers.

7. Know that professional treatment works: the earlier the better.

Treatments are designed to reduce symptoms, restore functioning at work and at home, and reduce the chances that symptoms will recur. The sooner that professional resources are engaged and treatment initiated, the sooner these positive changes will be experienced.

Use the resources listed below to access support and more information. Reach out today if you need help.

If you or someone you know requires emergency mental health assistance, please call 911 or accompany them—or have someone accompany you—to your local emergency department.

Mental Illness Awareness Week was established in 1992 by the Canadian Psychiatric Association, and is now coordinated by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health. For more information, visit the organization’s website.

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