Ship’s Medical Technician urges CAF members to reach out for help

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Navy News / January 18, 2019

Don’t wait until you are in a mental health crisis before seeking help.

Corporal Alex Cape has learned this lesson the hard way.

A Medical Technician aboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Vancouver and a driven athlete, she was approaching burn-out before she realized it.

“It really sneaks up on you,” she says. “I was really in the thick of it before I realized that my body and brain were broken and I needed a break.”

Cpl Cape, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) for nine years, is a marathon swimmer and has reached distances of nearly 95 kilometres in one swim. In order to attain her goals, training is time consuming and intense.

Added to that, she also plays hockey and other sports.

At work, she has been a crew member of HMCS Vancouver for over two years, and prior to that she was posted to Health Services Centre Pacific at CFB Esquimalt, B.C.

The combination of her demanding work and training schedules soon became overwhelming.

“I had to acknowledge that I was stressed out and in trouble,” she says. “My body hurt from over-training and I was having a hard time finding balance in my life. Even the small things like getting groceries became a problem.”

One of the biggest steps towards improving her well-being came when she recognized she couldn’t do it alone and sought help from the Employee Assistance Program, which offers professional counselling services to federal public service employees.

“It is absolutely critical to talk to someone before it becomes overwhelming,” she stresses. “As the stigma surrounding mental health issues begins to fade, people are more willing to act faster and ask for help.”

Cpl Cape has brought her personal experiences to her job aboard Vancouver. In 2018 she was deployed with the ship for several months on Operation PROJECTION in the Asia-Pacific region. She describes her job as “part medic, part nurse and part social worker.”

The stresses for those serving aboard navy ships are unique, tied to watch rotations and living in close proximity to fellow shipmates with little chance for time alone away from the job. Individual ships may have crew members who are willing to help others, whether it’s setting up AA meetings or assisting newer sailors adjust to life at sea. 

“People try to cope, but it’s not always easy,” says Cpl Cape. “Sometimes they will come to sick bay just to talk and don’t take it any further. But if they are seeking further support, I have a sticky note on my desk at eye level that lists all the resources available to them.”

She adds that it’s very rewarding to be able to help people, pointing them in the right direction and away from things that may make their situations worse, like alcohol, drugs or questionable behavior.

She encourages her shipmates to balance all aspects of their lives, such as their sleep habits, food choices and daily fitness as much as possible.

“Sometimes just doing little things like washing the dishes by hand or taking a walk helps people remember to slow down,” she says. “Often just a few small changes can help people manage their stress.” 

Cpl Cape has a stable support system of friends and family, and says this is a big factor for her mental well-being. 

“Having a plan really helps. I’ve learned in this job that as well as helping others as much as I can, I also need to take care of myself. I don’t keep it bottled up, I talk things through and ask for help when I need it.” 

She says that programs like Bell Let’s Talk also raise awareness of mental health and help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

“They provide an opportunity to learn about the resources available to improve well-being, and to build and sustain a psychologically healthy and safe workplace.”

For more information on CAF mental health resources, visit:

http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/caf-community-health-services/mental-health-resources.page