Improving the Mental Health in Military and First Responders: Lessons Learned After a Decade of War


A decade of war in Afghanistan increased the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) requirement to address the psychological burden of mental illness in the men and women that serve. Attention of military leadership, media and the public were drawn to issues such as suicide and PTSD. Concurrently the Mental Health needs of other populations such as first responders came to the forefront. This presentation will describe the CAFs efforts over the past two decades, many of which can also be adapted to the first responder community. Specific topic will include the need for cultural change, stigma reduction, education and training, timely access to evidence based care as well as a redefining the concept of “mental illness”.

The CAF has created an internationally recognized training that combines the best of sports or performance psychology and mental health education. This Road to Mental Readiness Program (R2MR) aims to reduce stigma, provide coping skills, enhance resilience and increase help seeking. R2MR is introduced in basic training and is expanded on throughout one’s career. Specific skills for leaders are embedded within R2MR, providing leaders with the practical tools required to support those in need. The CAF has also recognized the need for enhancing the treatments that are available for those that are struggling with mental health issues. An overview of the CAF research strategy and specific promising projects will be presented.

Finally, the author will discuss that ultimately the issue being discussed is “mental health in the workplace”, many of the principles will generalize to most workplaces and are not limited to the high stress and traumatic worlds of military and first responders.


Dr. Rakesh Jetly OMM, CD, MD, FRCPC

Dr. Rakesh Jetly is a psychiatrist and the Head of the Centre of Excellence in Mental Health, Directorate of Mental Health and an associate professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie University (Halifax), and the University of Ottawa.

He has authored numerous articles published in professional journals and frequently presents nationally and internationally on such topics as Mental Health in the Workplace, post-traumatic stress disorder, and occupational psychiatry. He has served as Senior Psychiatrist with the Canadian Armed Forces and mental health adviser to the surgeon general and NATO’s first research chair in military mental health. He also serves an advisor for the Bell Let’s talk campaign.

Dr. Jetly brings his robust experience to a new endeavor. In collaboration with Dr. Joti Samra, and in partnership with the University of Fredericton, he has co-developed the Enhancing Workplace Resiliency course. The course focuses on individuals and offers help in coping with and overcoming the adverse impacts of stress.

Previously, Dr. Jetly has held professional positions including Director of the “Operational Trauma and Stress Support Centre,” Atlantic Region; Chief Resident in Psychiatry, St. Michael’s Hospital; and Senior Medical Officer for the “Canadian Contingent United Nations the Middle East” in Israel. He has been involved in various military missions in the past including Rwanda and Kandahar, Afghanistan where coping skills were used on a daily basis.