The Canadian Military: Creating Resilience and Transforming lives

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) perform very diverse duties, both in Canada and internationally, dependent on the command – Air Force, Army, or Navy – in which they serve. The Army forms the largest part of the CAF, with 35,000 soldiers; many Army jobs focus on combat-related skills. From domestic support during natural disasters to peacekeeping internationally, all CAF personnel risk exposure to trauma and operational stress rarely seen elsewhere in Canadian society.

The military world is quite distinct; being in the military is a way of life, community-focused, with CAF support and control over almost all areas of daily life. The skills needed to perform operational tasks are supported by constant training, but performance can be affected by factors that are not common in a civilian population; relocation and deployment (which can be up to a year) are also constant realities. This military lifestyle can exacerbate everyday life stressors. Spouses are left to deal with everyday and urgent family issues while their partners are on deployment. The high level of resilience required by military personnel and families in the face of changing circumstances cannot be overemphasized.  

Issues identified are:

– Depression
– Psychological distress
– Anxiety and panic disorders
– Insomnia
– High-risk alcohol use and dependence
– Suicide ideation
– Physical and sexual abuse by partners

A study of male Regular Force suicides from 2002-2018 highlights the effect of these stressors. The Army rate was almost three times as high compared to the non-Army rate. In addition, those leaving the military face numerous challenges due to both the shift from this distinct way of life and the difficulty of adjusting to an unstructured civilian life, and of trauma, both physical and mental, from deployment in combat situations. PTSD, homelessness, and other transition stresses have resulted in a high rate of suicide in veterans. Overall, male veterans had a 36% higher risk of suicide than males in the general Canadian population; younger male veterans have a 242% higher risk. Overall, women veterans had an 81% higher risk. 

The CAF acknowledges the mental health challenges involved in military life. As a result, they have mounted several ongoing initiatives to assist personnel, such as an Addictions Treatment Program, online and face-to-face counselling, and an Operational Trauma and Stress Support program with a multidisciplinary team of professionals. 

The main thrust of these programs is through psychosocial interventions. Both for the individual and the organization, management of mental health is as important as physical health management.  

The Transcendental Meditation technique is a useful tool in any initiative to heal the effects of military-related stress and promote resilience and peak performance among service personnel and their families, so they can thrive and unfold their full potential. TM has shown to significantly lower stress and help the body recover more quickly from stressful situations. TM strengthens the immune system and improves brain functioning so that one can think more clearly in stressful situations. TM has no documented adverse side effects; it is not trauma-based and does not involve painful reliving of past events. It can help develop resilience and higher-level functioning and reduce post-traumatic stress (PTS), depression, insomnia, and other stress-related ailments that afflict active-duty military personnel in their personal and professional lives.  

Transcendental Meditation is:

  • Evidence-based—over 675 scientific studies; 406 have been published in independent, peer-reviewed journals or other edited scientific publications;
  • Simple to learn—standardized instruction ensures consistent results;
  • Easy to practise—does not involve concentration or controlling the mind;
  • Confidential and portable—can be practised privately, anywhere, at any time.

Benefits of the regular practice of the TM technique include:

  • Reduced symptoms of PTSD and depression;
  • Reduced anger and hostility;
  • Decreased reliance on alcohol;
  • Reduction in high blood pressure;
  • Reduction in high cortisol levels;
  • Increased resilience;
  • Decreased perceived stress.

Benefits of TM for the Military:
Two Research Papers

Effect of TM on PTSD

Barnes VA, Rigg JL, Williams JJ. Clinical case series: treatment of PTSD with Transcendental Meditation in active-duty military personnel. Military Medicine 2013 178(7):e836-40.

Active-duty U.S. Army Service Members previously diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were selected from the review of patient records in the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at the Department of Defense Eisenhower Army Medical Center Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia. Patients agreed to practice the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique for 20 minutes twice a day for the duration of a 2-month follow-up period. Three cases are presented with results that show the feasibility of providing TM training to active-duty soldiers with PTSD in a Department of Defense medical facility. Further investigation is suggested to determine if a TM program could be used as an adjunct for the treatment of PTSD. The impact of this report is expected to expand the complementary and alternative evidence base for clinical care of PTSD.

Improving Soldier Resilience

Rees B. Overview of outcome data of potential meditation training for soldier resilience. Military Medicine 2011 176(11):1232-1242

In order to identify potential training to enhance comprehensive soldier fitness, this analysis searched MEDLINE via PubMed and elsewhere for 33 reasonably significant modalities, screening over 11,500 articles for relevance regarding soldier resilience. Evaluation of modalities that are exclusively educational or cognitive/behavioural in nature is deferred. Using the volume and quality of research over 40 parameters distributed among the five domains of resilience (physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and family life), these data culled most of the meditative modalities and discrimination among the remaining techniques. The resulting order of merit is Transcendental Meditation, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation. Transcendental Meditation, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation, in that order, have the most supporting data. Fortuitously, they also represent a cross-section of the domain of techniques regarded as meditation, stress management, or relaxation, with three very different mechanisms of action. They are suitable potential options for improving soldier resilience.

Canadian Womens Wellness Initiative