Research advancing Canadian Armed Forces mental health care
Research provides insight into the complex mental health challenges facing Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members and their families. The Department of National Defence’s (DND) ongoing investment in military personnel research is focused on understanding the complex spectrum of mental health issues facing military members and their families and the factors to improve treatment. Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), a research agency of DND, uses a two-pronged approach to mental health research that includes social sciences and life sciences research.
This research generates knowledge to facilitate better understanding of the causes of mental health conditions and contributes to proper diagnosis and treatment options.
About social sciences research
DRDC’s Personnel and Family Support program supports the CAF’s commitment to recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration of ill and injured CAF members. The Canadian Armed Forces Surgeon General and the Chief of Military Personnel rely on DRDC’s work and its collaboration with partners to ensure that scientifically-validated principles are used to shape the delivery of mental health programs, policies, and services.
DRDC’s forward-looking social science research examines factors such as post-deployment mental and physical health, psychological resilience, post-deployment alcohol/drug use and attitudes toward mental health care.
The social sciences research work is conducted by Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis, a research division of DND reporting to Chief of Military Personnel and Assistant Deputy Minister (Science and Technology).
Research for results
Physical, mental and social health indicators of CAF veterans after transitioning from military to civilian life:
In collaboration with Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and Statistics Canada, DRDC is working to identify groups that are at particular risk for health and adjustment difficulties, including those injured through military service. This work will help to identify the factors that both adversely and positively affect well-being, which can lead to better program design support and services targeted for high risk individuals.
Stressors experienced on military deployment and their relationship with post-deployment mental and physical health outcomes:
In collaboration with Canadian Forces Health Services (CFHS), DRDC is examining the association between combat exposure and mental/physical well-being and the potential mechanisms, or causal pathways, involved in this process. This research will provide insights regarding the risk factors for mental and physical health problems following a military deployment.
Psychological resilience and post-deployment mental health outcomes of CAF members:
Why do some people develop mental health problems in response to a stressful situation while others exposed to the same situation may not? To answer this question, DRDC and CFHS have developed a model of psychological resilience to identify individual characteristics that are linked to positive health outcomes. If individual characteristics can be identified and associated with better post-deployment mental health, then training and intervention programs can be designed to enhance these characteristics to better equip individuals to deal with stressors. The Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) program, a mental health education and resilience training program, will benefit from this research.
Association between combat exposure and post-deployment alcohol use:
Heavy alcohol consumption is sometimes used as a self-medication tool to help cope with stressors resulting from combat exposure. This behavior can lead to injuries or adverse health conditions that impact society as a whole. In collaboration with CFHS, DRDC is conducting a study to examine patterns of alcohol use and related problems among CAF personnel. This research highlights the need for tailored interventions addressing hazardous and harmful alcohol use and the work has the potential to inform prevention strategies and screening efforts.
Attitudes toward seeking mental health care:
Military personnel returning from combat deployments have an increased risk of mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. However, only a minority of those with mental health problems actually seek care due to a broad range of barriers. DRDC’s research about the stigma surrounding mental health and other barriers affecting personnel seeking care has identified factors that may prevent individuals from getting help, particularly during and following deployment.
This research has been used to update the R2MR program’s content with the goal of changing CAF recruit’s attitudes towards mental health so that the future CAF can experience fewer mental health stigmas and barriers.
About Life Sciences Research
Military members exposed to armed combat are at increased risk for suffering from PTSD and mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Although these are two separate and distinct conditions, diagnosis is difficult because frequently both coexist and often have overlapping symptoms. Another challenge is that a diagnosis can only be made after an analysis of the patients’ self-reported emotional or psychological symptoms - which can vary widely from person to person and are often quite subjective. DRDC’s life sciences approach to mental health research is focused on neuroimaging techniques and identification of biomarkers to advance the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD. The ability to make an objective diagnosis will allow the medical community to more quickly manage and effectively treat their patient’s specific illness. Further program details can be found in the Research Advancing Diagnosis and Treatment of Combat-Related Injuries document.
Canada’s approach to military mental health programs is recognized by NATO Allies and civilian organizations alike for its: robust approach to care; stigma reduction initiatives; research efforts; and, mental health training and awareness programs.Footnote 1 DRDC will continue to conduct mental health research in collaboration with various partners to provide the CAF with the most relevant, scientifically-validated principles that will shape the delivery of programs, services and treatments for military members and their families.
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