Earlier this month, the Defence Team kicked-off Mental Health Week 2019 with a captivating panel discussion on personal well-being and resilience, co-hosted by the Defence Team’s Mental Health Co-Champions, Deputy Minister (DM) Jody Thomas and Vice Chief of the Defence Staff (VCDS) LGen Paul Wynnyk.
Panelists at the May 6 event included Ms. Michèle Miller-Brown, a Department of National Defence (DND) employee with the HOPE (Helping Our Peers by Providing Empathy) Program, and Chief Warrant Officer Dominique Geoffroy with the Canadian Forces Health Services group.
Speaking to an audience of military and civilian Defence Team members in Ottawa, the DM told the crowd, “Our goal this week is to talk about mental health and to #GetLoud about mental health…It sounds great as a hashtag, but what does that actually mean?”
In their discussion with the DM and VCDS, the two panelists shared personal stories about what mental health means to them. They opened up about how they improved their mental health and resiliency after being faced with adversity in life.
After losing her husband, a CAF member, to a medical illness, Michèle was able to work through her grief with the help of several mental health and bereavement programs, including the HOPE peer support program where she now works.
“You’re not alone. The resources exist for a reason, and I think it’s really important to make use of them and find which of them works for you,” she said. “A little bit of self-care goes a long way. Whether I take 15 minutes with a book or to listen to music, it helps.”
CWO Geoffroy spoke about the evolution of the Canadian Armed Forces’ approach to and understanding of mental health from his first deployment in Bosnia in 1992 to his most recent tour in Iraq in 2017.
“Today, we have a better understanding of mental health as a command team, and we see that soldiers also have a better understanding of it. It’s easier for us to talk about it. It’s also easier to support our members. At the moment, we have more education, and more programs.”
LGen Wynnyk and DM Thomas highlighted the importance of being true to yourself and honouring your honest reactions to mental health challenges. Whether you wear your emotions on your sleeve, or are more stoic in your response to stress, there is no wrong way to feel.
“Different people have different ways [to manage mental health]. We’re all affected by mental health and we all have different way of coping with it,” said the VCDS.
In addition to having open and honest conversations, there are many things that you can do to improve personal resilience, including getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet, maintaining strong social connections and getting regular exercise.
The Deputy Minister closed the event by reminding the audience that, “We’re in this together. No one should feel like they’re alone in dealing with their mental health.”
If you, or anyone you know is struggling with a mental health challenge and don’t know where to turn, help is available.