Mental Health Week 2014

Ottawa – May 8, 2014

On May 6, 2014, I was honoured to attend the First Annual Sam Sharpe Breakfast, organized by Senator Roméo Dallaire and Erin O'Toole, Member of Parliament for Durham. Among the speakers were Tim Laidler, Executive Director of the Veterans Transition Network, and LCol (ret'd) Chris Linford, author of Warrior Rising, who shared their stories about their personal journeys on the road to wellness.

It was a good beginning to the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) 63rd Mental Health Week (May 5 – 9) and gave us all a chance to reflect on our state of well-being, both individually and collectively as Canadians.

The health and well-being of Canadian Armed Forces personnel, Veterans, members of the RCMP, and their families are important to the well-being of our country. The unique risks and experiences inherent in the present and past service of our over 60,000 Canadian Armed Forces members, approximately 30,000 Reservists and over 700,000 Veterans, demand high standards of protection, prevention and care for the ill and injured. This effort must extend also to first responders, such as police, fire fighters, and paramedics, as well as humanitarian workers who are often faced with difficult occupational challenges.

On Friday of this week, we will commemorate the commitment and sacrifices made by the almost 40,000 men and women who served in Afghanistan, and we will also recognize the special role played by their families. Over 6,100 of those who served are Veterans Affairs Canada clients today with injuries or illnesses directly related to their Afghanistan deployment, and almost 50 percent of these have a mental health injury/illness.

These invisible injuries affect us all as they can change the dynamics of the relationships Veterans have with their families, friends and colleagues and manifest in many ways, including through anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. As with a physical injury, service-related mental illness can drastically affect the quality of life of Veterans and their families.

But the message at the First Annual Sam Sharpe Breakfast was one of hope. Not only has each of the Veterans who spoke chose to move forward beyond their injuries, they are making a significant difference in the lives of others and continue to serve their country well. Each story was truly inspirational, and the phrase that stuck in my mind was: “We are sick, not weak.”

Today the good news is that there seems to be the beginning of an understanding that Veterans and their families need hope for the transition process. For injured or ill Veterans, the unexpected loss of career, the potential reduction in financial security and the coming to terms with one’s medical condition have a major effect on well-being. At such a critical juncture in the life of a service member and his family, the member needs to see tangible evidence that there are better options for the future so that he or she can focus on wellness and moving forward. Without forward movement there is no hope. With hope, one can look forward to the future.

 

My recent reports on the New Veterans Charter identify the current gaps in the transition process and offer solutions to correct the deficiencies. So this week as we reflect on our well-being and commemorate the service of those who served in Afghanistan, let’s consider what needs to be improved to better provide for the well-being of all our Veterans and their families. Then let us resolve to do something about it.

Guy Parent

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