Bell Let’s Talk: CAF members speak out

A CAF national panel discussion on mental health was held in Tribute Tower on January 30 as part of Bell Let’s Talk Day.

CAF members speak out on Bell Let’s Talk Day

By Ryan Melanson,
Trident Staff

The ship’s company of HMCS Halifax pose for a photo with their blue Bell Let’s Talk hats.

Cpl Travis Weir is a Medical Technician on board HMCS Montreal, and while his trade focuses on caring for the health of his colleagues, he recently opened up about a time when he needed a break to take care of himself.

He’s struggled with anxiety and depression in recent years, and while symptoms first began surfacing during his QL3 trade course, he initially ignored the problems.

“It’s like other people have said. I didn’t want it to slow me down or have an effect on my job so I just pushed through, and started doing things like drinking a lot to get through it. That lasted for years until I basically hit rock bottom,” he said.

Cpl Weir shared his story during a national CAF discussion panel on mental health, held inside Tribute Tower at CFB Halifax on January 30, as part of events marking Bell Let’s Talk Day on the base. Bell Canada’s mental health advocacy and awareness day began in 2010, and has since raised more than $100 million for mental health related charities and initiatives. The CAF has partnered with Bell Canada with events at bases and wings across the country to help spur more open conversations within the CAF and DND about mental health, mental illness, and the ability for personnel to reach out for help without jeopardizing their career.

Cpl Weir, who is married and has young children, said he eventually sought help with the encouragement of his wife, spent time in rehab dealing with his alcohol abuse, and was able to begin the road to recovery before losing everything. He was concerned about the potential career implications of seeking help, and encouraged others who may be struggling to move past those worries, as being diagnosed with depression or other mental health problems does not mean the end of a CAF career.

“It doesn’t work like that anymore. I was originally on a medical release, but that was overturned, and the system around these things is changing for the better,” Cpl Weir said.

Others on the discussion panel included PO2 Chevonne Fisher, a budget supervisor with CFB Halifax Base Comptroller, former RCN clearance diver turned Bell Let’s Talk Ambassador LS (Ret’d) Bruno Guévremont, Dockyard Trade and Labour Council President Jerry Ryan, Cmdre Chris Sutherland, Regional Base Surgeon LCol David Coker, and local CF H Svcs Psychologist Chimene Jewer. All spoke about their own experiences with mental health issues, whether struggling themselves or supporting others in their recoveries.

Cmdre Sutherland was Base Commander at CFB Halifax from 2015-2017, and has previously been open about his struggles with mental illness and subsequent alcohol abuse problems, and the fact that he’s received professional help multiple times through his career.

He said he’s received nothing but support in these cases, and that he held more internal stigma about mental illness than anything he experienced from colleagues or medical professionals, but he still understands the intimidation factor. As a junior officer attending a mental health clinic, he recalled wearing dark glasses and taking the stairs instead of elevator so as to not be recognized.

“Now I go proudly, in uniform, when I check in to help maintain my recovery, but I know from my own experience and I’ve heard from others, and their family members, about the fear of reaching out for help. I want people to be able to do this without fear, and have confidence that help will be there waiting,” he said.

Cmdre Sutherland added that initiatives like the peer-support focused Sentinel Program, as well as base Padres, offer a way for junior members to seek guidance and help navigating mental health resources in a confidential way.

Other important services discusses during the day included the Canadian Forces Member Assistance Program (CFMAP) and civilian Employee Assistance Program (EAP), along with others like the MFRC, CAF Transition Group, and of course the mental health professionals who work with CF H Svcs. Representatives of these groups and others were also at Tribute Tower for a mental health information fair held earlier in the day, where visitors could learn a bit about resources available to them and snap a photo in a Bell Let’s Talk photo booth.

LS (Ret’d) Guévremont, who used his struggles while in the CAF as the catalyst to eventually become a successful entrepreneur and Invictus Athlete, said the most important message of the day was that help is available, and that CAF members, DND employees, or anyone else, need not suffer in silence.

“It’s about the importance of recognizing what you’re going through. Don’t wait, stay ahead of it, get help, and find out what works for you,” he said.

“It’s important and nobody will think any less of you.”