Nfld. & Labrador

Armed Forces applicant cites discrimination over anxiety diagnosis

Brandon Cooper wants to serve in Canada's Armed Forces like his grandfather and father, but was turned away because of a diagnosis of generalized anxiety.

Armed Forces applicant cites discrimination over anxiety diagnosis

7 years ago
Duration 2:22
When Brandon Cooper applied to join the military he admitted to having been treated for anxiety and his application was rejected.

Brandon Cooper, a young Newfoundlander who wants to follow a family tradition of military service, says the Canadian Armed Forces have discriminated against him because his application was rejected over an anxiety diagnosis. 

“I just want to do some time for my country, give it some service,” Cooper, 17, told CBC News.

I don't think that people should have to hide the fact that they have a mental illness- Brandon Cooper

Cooper, who lives in Mount Pearl, comes from a family whose members have served during the Second World War as well as in recent missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

He said it was hard to believes that that a diagnosis of general anxiety disorder (GAD) made a couple of years ago was going to keep him from continuing that line of service.

While recently completing his military application, Cooper said he passed his physical and aptitude tests with ease. However, while filling out the medical section, Cooper said he was truthful when he answered yes for anxiety.

“So I checked off [that] I have general anxiety, and then probably two months after that I got a letter in the mail that said I was denied," he said during an interview. 

"The fact that I was turned down immediately because of anxiety brings up a big deal to me, because if I wasn't to check off that box, then would I be in the Armed Forces right now," Cooper said. 

Panic attack led to diagnosis

Now getting ready to graduate in June — and thinking about what his future holds — Cooper said said he was diagnosed with GAD after a panic attack that occured two years ago while he was taking an exam at school. 

Brandon Cooper holds a copy of the rejection letter. (Anthony Germain/CBC)

"I went to a psychologist,” he said. “I just wanted to see what they could do for me, and what they first did is they recommended a medication.”

Cooper was prescribed Prozac, a common antidepressant medication also known as a SSRI, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Prozac can be used to treat depression, obsessive compulsiveness and anxiety.

Cooper said he felt he did not need the medication and that, after trying it for a while, he stopped taking it. He said he learned about anxiety, and developed personal coping strategies that worked for him.

"I want to prove to [the Armed Forces] that my anxiety is not controlling me. And that I have methods in place where I can control the anxiety,” he said.

Now in his last year of high school at O’Donel High School in Mount Pearl, Cooper said he is aiming for grades that are above 90 per cent. He adds that he is overall an A student.

He also heads a mental health support group at his school. He said teachers and friends can vouch for his daily capabilities and that he has a strong volunteer presence both in school and in the community.

"I don't think that people should have to hide the fact that they have a mental illness," Cooper said.

Are others afraid to speak up?

After being put through the range of emotions he has experienced because of all this, Cooper said he would like to see the Armed Forces change the way they review applicants.

On top of that he now worries for the other men and women who either want to join the Armed Forces but are unable to because of a situation like his, or those who are currently serving who may not be able to find the help they need.

“I went back to the recruiting centre and told them that I don't agree with the fact that I got denied because of my anxiety … Call my doctors if you have to, just don't deny a person right away because of their mental illness,” Cooper said.

"We all know that mental health matters, so, the problem is, are there any people that are in the Armed Forces that are afraid to go get medical help because of a problem they have?"

Cooper plans to appeal the Armed Forces decision to reject him, a process that he said he is currently researching.

“It scares me because I don't think people should at all be discriminated because of what mental illness they have."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kenny Sharpe

CBC News

Kenny Sharpe is a journalist from Atlantic Canada. He reports on daily news with a focus on the environment, mental health and politics. He studied philosophy and psychology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and has a masters of journalism from Yeates School of Graduate Studies at Ryerson University in Toronto.

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