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Record of Discussion – Mental Health Advisory Group Teleconference

Wednesday, October 4, 2017
1800 – 1845 (EDT)

Mental Health Advisory Group Members

  • Sapper (Retired) Aaron Bedard
  • Michel Blais, Canadian Veterans Advocacy
  • Dave Gallson, Mood Disorders Society of Canada
  • Sergeant Brian Harding
  • Glynne Hines, Royal Canadian Legion (Co-chair)
  • Dr. Ruth Lanius, Western University
  • Ed Mantler, Mental Health Commission of Canada
  • Warrant Officer (Retired) Brian McKenna
  • Kerry Mould, Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping
  • Robert Thibeau, Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones
  • Dr. Patrick Smith, Canadian Mental Health Association

Regrets

  • Dr. Karen Cohen, Canadian Psychological Association
  • Colonel Colleen Forestier, Director of Mental Health, Canadian Armed Forces
  • Dr. Don Richardson, Canadian Psychiatric Association
  • Amanda Jane, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Veterans Affairs Canada Officials

  • Michel Doiron, Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery
  • Dr. Alexandra Heber, Chief of Psychiatry, Health Professionals Division
  • Dr. Jim Thompson, Research Medical Advisor, Research Directorate
  • Steven Harris, Director General, Communications
  • Joel Fillion, Director, Mental Health (VAC Co-chair)
  • Katherine Spencer-Ross, Director, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Michelle Morrison, Senior Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach

Opening Remarks

The Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) Co-chair briefly welcomed members of the group, and introduced the Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) of Service Delivery.

The ADM thanked the group for joining the call on such short notice. He noted that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)-VAC Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy would be formally announced the following day, and reinforced the need to keep the document and discussion confidential.

The ADM noted that the Advisory Group’s work and recommendations had provided key input and advice to development of the Strategy, and believed the group would be pleased overall with the results. He also confirmed that VAC would meet the promised deadline of December 2017 to provide the numbers of Veteran deaths by suicide. He then handed the discussion over to the technical experts on the Suicide Prevention Strategy, to provide more details.

The Chief of Psychiatry with Health Professionals Division and the Research Medical Advisor provided further information including the following key points:

  • Under the CAF-VAC Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy, there is a list of 160 actions planned, or already under-way. These are organized under seven ‘Lines of Effort’:
    1. Communicating, Engaging, and Educating
    2. Building and Supporting Resilient CAF Members and Veterans
    3. Connecting and Strengthening CAF Members and Veterans through Families and Community
    4. Providing Timely Access to Effective Health Care and Support
    5. Well-being of CAF members through their Transition to Civilian Life
    6. Protocols, Policies, and Processes, to Better Manage Risk and Stress
    7. Continuously Improve Through Research, Analysis and Incorporation of Lessons Learned and Best Practices
  • The Advisory Group had provided feedback on the Strategy at its March 22, 2017 meeting, and it was explained how each of their recommendations is addressed in the Suicide Prevention Action Items.
  • The Research Medical Advisor noted the change in thinking about how to prevent suicide; previously it meant referring to a long list of risk and protective factors, while it is now known that suicide can arise at any point, especially when personal factors, such as mental illness, are combined with a life stressor.

Comments from Group members on the Strategy were positive and they offered the following:

  • Progress has been made overall in terms of helping former CAF members.
  • A Veterans identification card would be important to the transition process, suggesting that a releasing member would receive a Veterans ID card in exchange for his or her CAF ID card.
  • Suicidality is not entirely different from the civilian population. However, there are specific stress points unique to military members related to the transition process to post-military life, and subsequent difficult times of year, for example, the first Remembrance Day following release, and the time between Remembrance Day and Christmas.

Next Steps

The group would like to go through the action items in more detail to assist them in providing further advice on individual actions. The ADM offered to walk them through the action items at a later date.

Closing Remarks

The authors of the Strategy were recognized, and group members were thanked again for their advice, dedication and contribution to the Strategy.

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