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Canadian Forces launching new tech to treat mental health injuries

FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News)


FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News)

From May 6 to 12 this year, Canadians celebrated Mental Health Week, an event dedicated to awareness and recognition of issues and concerns pertaining to mental health and illness.

On April 30, Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay announced two new programs for soldiers suffering from injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and operational stress disorder: the Telemental Health Network and the Virtual Reality Initiative Bravemind.

The Telemental Health Network is a system of 90 desktop video conference stations, meant to give Canadian Forces members living in remote areas access to mental health professionals across Canada.

“The network will help overcome the barriers of distance and travel time that many military members experience when seeking care,” MacKay said, noting the system can offer diagnosis, counselling, consultation and education to soldiers suffering from mental health issues, as well as their families. Trials of the network are underway, and MacKay said it has been well accepted by clinicians and patients.

Virtual Reality Initiative Bravemind is a program that can help soldiers with PTSD deal with the traumatic experiences that lead to their illness in a safe and secure virtual reality environment. “It speaks to a younger demographic that has traditionally had a higher drop-off rate with traditional treatment,” MacKay explained.

The initiatives were developed with the $11.4 million reallocated for ill and injured military personnel and their families in 2012, bringing mental health care spending in the military up to $50 million annually.

“Our government recognizes our duty to support those facing mental health challenges and the need to foster an environment that helps to increase awareness, reduce stigma and change behaviours and attitudes about mental health,” MacKay said in a press release from May 6.

Bell Canada, as part of its Mental Health Week program, announced the Bell True Patriot Love fund, a four-year, $1 million fund for military families dealing with mental health issues.

“We stepped back and said ‘where is there a very focused need and, possibly in this area, where stigma is still such a significant part of this illness, where we know two out of three people do not go after the care they may necessarily need because they don’t have the confidence or feel they know where to get that help?’” asked George Cope, president and CEO of Bell Canada.

General Tom Lawson, chief of defence staff, said that the changes will also help the families of soldiers.

“We will continue to work with our partners in the civilian and professional sectors to care for our personnel, and all Canadians alike, by reducing stigma or any other kind of barrier that prevents access to needed care,” Lawson said.

Dr. Suzane Renaud, the president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, based in Ottawa, welcomed the new initiatives set out by the federal government. “We hope it will continue to stimulate dialogue between government, health professionals, allied professionals, and consumer organizations about what can be done to improve access to evidence-based mental health services and treatments for Canadians.”

With files from Greg Burchell

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