Military service members and first responders struggle to get support for their health needs

People on the frontlines of trauma are unaware of risk factors for serious health conditions

Eighty per cent of military service members and first responders believe they are vulnerable to health issues, but many have difficulty seeking and receiving the help they need from doctors, family, friends and the larger community.

The Healthy Heroes survey queried 239 Canadian military service members and first responders and 501 members of the general public about their knowledge and attitudes related to the health of these frontline heroes. 

While stress (42 per cent), mental illness (40 per cent) and sleep disorders (37 per cent) are cited as top job-related concerns amongst military service members and first responders, 83 per cent feel they are in good, very good or excellent health. Still, 66 per cent report at least one serious health issue, including chronic pain, metabolic disorders and heart disease. 

Research shows these populations are at risk for several health conditions, however, military service members and first responders do not associate the stress and sleep issues they are reporting as potentially contributing to the chronic conditions for which they are at risk. According to the survey, while three in five military service members and first responders know that stress and sleep disorders (62 per cent and 59 per cent respectively) can impact their overall health, few (25 per cent and 23 per cent respectively) are receiving care for these issues from a health care professional.

"It is clear these courageous individuals recognize the stress inherent in their jobs, but they may not necessarily link that stress to the associative risk for other serious health issues — both psychological and physiological," said Husseini Manji, MD, FRCPC, neuroscience head, Janssen Pharmaceuticals. "Of greater concern is that even when these issues are recognized, they are not necessarily being addressed by a healthcare professional. We must all learn how to recognize someone at risk for mental illness to ensure they get the help they need so they can continue to play a vital role at home and in the community."

Of the military service members and first responders who reported being diagnosed with a serious health condition, 25 per cent are not receiving ongoing treatment. More than half cite family and their spouse (52 per cent; 51 per cent) as being key influencers to their health, yet many (62 per cent) feel they can't afford to get sick, seek help or allow their family to view them as weak. 

Many (77 per cent) also believe their family depends upon them to be a strong role model. Furthermore, one in four of these individuals are afraid that their colleagues would not support their efforts to get help with mental health issues. 

Seventy-six per cent of military service members and first responders say support from peers and the community would encourage them to take better care of their health, but 53 per cent admit their profession makes it difficult to engage in a healthy manner with people who are not in the same line of work. 

A majority of military service members and first responders who believe the public should be more aware of their health issues believe it would help them to receive better care (68 per cent) and elicit more support from family, friends and the community (52 per cent). Most Canadians surveyed recognize some symptoms of mental health issues and nearly all (97 per cent) would do something to help an individual showing symptoms; however, only 63 per cent would direct them to a healthcare professional.