Good afternoon, and thank you, Karen.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony today.
I would like to acknowledge that our meeting is being held on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people and to pay my respects to indigenous elders past, present and emerging.
I would also like to acknowledge and express my gratitude and appreciation for all of you here today who have served or are serving this country. Thank you for your service. To your families, I thank them for their support and their sacrifice.
It is an honour to appear today with my fellow panellists, people I admire and people I respect, and I look forward to hearing their testimony.
I am here today as the president and CEO of the Vanier Institute of the Family. The institute is a research and education organization dedicated to understanding families, family life and family experiences. Our ultimate goal is to optimize family well-being in Canada.
Our founders, General The Right Honourable Georges Vanier, and his wife, the Honourable Pauline, understood the strength and importance of family. They understood that the military member was not apart from but rather an integral part of a family. They knew the impact that family had on operational readiness. General Vanier served in both world wars. He suffered injuries—among them, losing his leg in battle. He understood the importance of mental health. He understood the impact of military service and that impact both on the service member and on the rest of his family.
As we think about military mental health, it's important to recognize that mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness. Mental health is a state of being, not just a diagnosis. Mental health is fluid. Mental health is not about conditions, problems and crises. Mental health, like physical health, requires conscious, deliberate attention. Like physical health, managing one's mental health includes prevention, early intervention and individual calibration.
Managing one's mental health requires self-care and access to information and resources and sometimes to professional care. Managing one's mental health requires support from managers, colleagues and co-workers, and it requires a strong personal circle of support. For most people, that personal circle of support starts with family.
When we think of military mental health and supporting members to effectively manage their mental health, we need to see them as part of a family and part of a community. We need to define family broadly. Family is more than spouse and children. Family includes parents, grandparents, siblings and ex-partners. Family is connections. Family may be biological, circumstantial or consciously chosen. Family is dynamic, continuously evolving and constantly adapting. Family, in fact, is the most adaptable institution in our society, and no two families are alike.
To ensure that CAF members achieve success, to ensure that they get the help they need when they need it and not just when they have reached a point of crisis, we and DND, the country and the community need to see family as a whole. We can do that with three straightforward strategic supports.
Number one is systemic supports, which include framing and managing mental health as a key skill, recognizing and including family as key members of the wellness team and educating and training for mental health competency, both at the individual and the family level.
The second is administrative supports. We need to create a culture where help-seeking is seen as a strength and not a weakness, providing access to services within the military and in the broader community.
The third is professional supports. We need to use a family lens when developing communication strategies and treatment plans. We need to treat the whole family. We need to acknowledge that individual well-being affects and is affected by family well-being.
In conclusion, if we frame managing one's mental health as a core competency, if we focus on the whole person, including their circle of support, if we focus on the importance of social connection, and if we focus on honouring, respecting and supporting military members and their families and frame help as a tool for success, then together we will be able to optimize the mental health of military members, strengthen families and create a culture of individual and family well-being within the military, and be a model for other workplaces across Canada and around the world.
I look forward to our conversation.
Thank you, Madam Chair.