On September 17, 2020, the NATO-COMEDS Military Mental Health Panel (MMHP), the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and CIMVHR hosted an international symposium on Confronting the Pandemic: A Mental Health Perspective and Maintaining Operational Readiness of NATO Forces. The invitational symposium was developed to highlight challenges the pandemic has brought to the way military personnel prepare for and are supported during operations. An immediate response was required to ensure continuity of care for existing and emerging mental health needs of military personnel, and the inability to adapt to the changing environment could have significant impacts on the operational readiness of our Forces.
The symposium brought together MMHP members, CIMVHR, CAF members and international researchers to examine the current evidence base and best practices for operational readiness and mental well-being during a pandemic for NATO Forces.
The focus of the symposium was on current military members with the guiding principles: Promote, Prevent, Detect, and Treat. The symposium also covered the operational readiness cycle, from preventative measures to clinical treatment, generating recommendations for future operational readiness procedures. Discussions focused on three key areas:
- The emerging epidemiology within military personnel of mental health disorders seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, and their potential relationship to the pandemic, directly and indirectly.
- The best actions and interventions to maintain the operational readiness of NATO Forces during the acute phases of a pandemic like COVID-19 and subsequent prolonged periods when severe restrictions on social contact prevail. Experts proposed key elements to guide the ongoing provision of care during such a prolonged period.
- The “best practice” actions and interventions to maintain operational effectiveness during NATO operations in the context of a pandemic.
Following the symposium, recommendations for best practice were developed for both the Chain of Command and clinical services. In addition, CIMVHR’s Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health included a supplement with all of the symposium’s findings.