Over the past several months, there has been growing awareness about experiences of military sexual misconduct (MSM) and the resulting military sexual trauma (MST) among Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members and Veterans. The Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families has responded to this important issue with the launch of a new collection of resources designed not only for individuals who are impacted by MST but also for health care providers who might be providing care and support to those affected.

MaryAnn Notarianni, Deputy CEO and Vice-President of Knowledge Mobilization at the Atlas Institute, said the Atlas Institute recognized early into its mandate that this was a key priority that would require significant attention, including the development of resources for those impacted. “We heard from the community about the numbers of people impacted, the devastating effects of MST and the need for dedicated resources,” she said. “This is a major public health concern, with one in four women and one in 25 men having experienced sexual assault at least once since joining the Canadian military.”

The resources released today have been developed in consultation with an advisory committee of Veterans with lived experience of MST and health care providers who work in the military/Veteran context, Notarianni added. “It is important to recognize the necessity of creating easily accessible resources for the individual, as well as of building critical awareness among health care providers. Through careful screening and training, more effective and sensitive physical and mental health care can be provided to people impacted by MST,” she said. “The resources were developed with the recognition that all providers, even those outside the military/Veteran community and the field of mental health, can support Veterans impacted by MST when they have the right tools available to them.”

“The first step in supporting and caring for someone is trying to understand how their MST impacts every facet of life. Not being understood is the worst human trauma in life. Every new research or resource we can develop and share strengthens every person’s healing path,”said MST survivor M.E. Sam Samplonius, CD.

“As a person with lived experience, my path has been brightened with more hope thanks to the work the Atlas Institute is doing for all of us and our loved ones.”

Major (Ret’d) Carly Arkell, one of two Veteran members of the working group on service provision who helped in the development of the resources, said the opportunity has been important for her own advocacy efforts in taking her experience and using it in support of others who might not yet have received the help and support they need. “I’m glad to have been part of developing these resources based on the real-life experiences of those of us who have experienced MST. Contributing in this way has been empowering — it has enabled us to share the unique challenges and experiences to add to the body of knowledge about the effect of MST, and to build meaningful support. With the development of these resources, I see the potential for change, which brings me hope, and we know hope can be a powerful thing.”

For individuals impacted by MST, there are two new resources providing tips, strategies and helpful information to support the healing journey — “Recovering from military sexual trauma: From coping to healing” and “Recovering from military sexual trauma: The role of peer support” — available both as downloadable, accessible PDFs as well as web resources.

The new resources for health care providers are designed to improve awareness of the unique military and Veteran-specific factors that can affect care for Veterans who have experienced MST. They include an introductory guide to MST, titledMilitary sexual trauma: A guide for Canadian health care providers,” as well as an infographic and two brief videos that are focused on key practice tips for health care providers working with people impacted by MST.

The resources can be accessed on the Atlas Institute for Veteran and Families’ website at atlasveterans.ca/military-sexual-trauma.

For more information, contact: media-atlas@theroyal.ca

Ottawa, Ontario, 24 August 2022: While a growing amount of research evidence suggests that intimate partner violence (IPV) is a significant concern among military personnel and Veterans, few studies have investigated the use and experience of IPV in these communities and within their Families. A newly released systematic review offers important insights into how commonly IPV is experienced among military personnel and Veterans.

The research led by the Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families, and conducted in collaboration with Phoenix Australia, Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, uses a working definition that IPV includes any behaviour intended to cause physical, emotional or sexual harm, in a current or former intimate relationship. This can include physical and sexual violence, as well as psychological or emotional abuse, such as coercive control — a pattern of non-physical, manipulative behaviour — that is used to gain and maintain control over a partner.

The Atlas-Phoenix review of research on IPV in military and Veteran communities found that 1 in 8 (13%) of all active duty personnel and Veterans reported recent use of IPV, and 1 in 5 (21%) reported having recently been exposed to IPV. Fardous Hosseiny, President and CEO of the Atlas Institute said these findings suggest a need for greater recognition of, and response to, IPV in military and Veteran settings, specifically within the Canadian context. ”As most, but not all, of this research has been conducted in the United States, the review also identifies a need for additional research regarding the use and experience of IPV among military personnel, Veterans, and their Families in other countries.”

Hosseiny, in confirming that military personnel and Veterans may be at a higher risk of using or being exposed to IPV, added that  the unique experiences within the military context such as relocations, deployment, as well as post traumatic stress and related mental health conditions, are all factors that could increase the risk of IPV.

Professor David Forbes, Hosseiny’s counterpart at Phoenix Australia, said the findings from this review provide up-to-date, evidence-based information about how commonly IPV is experienced and used among military personnel and Veterans: “The findings suggest a strong need for greater recognition and responses to IPV in military and ex-service settings. Addressing this need may include developing and/or increasing availability of programs that can meet the needs of military personnel and Veterans and their Families who are exposed to IPV.”

Hosseiny added that examples of such programs should include support services for clients that report exposure to IPV, as well as training for health providers of Veterans and Veteran Families to effectively discuss and respond to clients’ reports of exposure and/or use of IPV. “As a result of this study, we have a much better picture of the situation. We can state with certainty that there is a need for more services targeted at Veterans and Veteran Families to help prevent and reduce the use of IPV in these communities Policymakers and leaders in health service organizations can support these efforts by implementing policies that promote awareness of IPV in services for Veterans and their Families.”

The project, Hosseiny added, was initiated primarily in response to the increased risk of IPV generally, as a result of the isolation and stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, and interest in knowing more about the impacts for military and Veteran communities specifically. Using this review as a foundation, the Atlas Institute and Phoenix Australia are planning a follow-up study that will engage Veterans and Families to learn more about their previous and/or current experiences using Canadian IPV support services and programs.

For more information about this study, contact engagement@theroyal.ca. Additional resources can be accessed at atlasveterans.ca/intimate-partner-violence.

For more information, contact:
media-atlas@theroyal.ca

Ottawa, ON, 10 August 2022: The Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families is pleased to announce the expansion of its Board of Directors with the appointment of Dr. Alice Aiken, Craig Dalton, Inspector (Ret’d) Baltej Dhillon, and James MacRae.

The Atlas Institute has been designed to have a small Board of Directors from a governance and oversight perspective, while ensuring input into its day-to-day operations from the lived expertise community through the use of reference groups.

Additionally, Scott McLean, founding Chair of the Board of Directors has announced his retirement. Cal Crocker will step into the Chair role and Joanne Bezzubetz has continued in her role as board member. This brings the new Board of Directors of the Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families to six.

“Our Board of Directors at the Atlas Institute is comprised of dedicated individuals from across Canada who are committed to providing strength, stability and well-being for Canadian military and RCMP Veterans and their Families,” Fardous Hosseiny, President and CEO said, adding that the expanded talent, expertise and energy as well as each having a direct connection to the community itself in varying capacity will help further the mission of the Atlas Institute.

“I would like to thank Scott for the instrumental role he has played in building this organization, and his commitment to the community as our inaugural Chair of the Board,” Hosseiny said, adding “I would also like to welcome this new board as together they will provide the governance that continues to guide our work in this sector.”

The Atlas Institute’s original board was made up of three members who brought different skills and perspectives from within the mental health sector. With today’s announcement, the Board has been expanded to ensure representation from across Canada as well as additional Veteran and Family perspective.

Professor Alice B. Aiken, CD, PhD, MSc, BScPT, BSc, ICD.D

Dr. Alice Aiken is Vice-President Research & Innovation at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.  She is a full Professor in the Faculty of Health whose research focuses on health systems transformation and evidence-informed policy making, with a focus on military and Veteran health. Dr. Aiken is currently the interim Chair of the Governing Council of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).  She is elected to the College of New Scholars of the Royal Society of Canada. She holds her ICD.D designation from the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD).

She was formerly the Dean of the Faculty of Health at Dalhousie. She started her academic career at Queen’s University where she founded and was the first Scientific Director of the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, a unique consortium of over 48 Canadian and 13 international universities dedicated to researching the health needs of military personnel, Veterans and their families.

She received her PhD and Master from Queen’s University, Canada, her Physical Therapy degree from Dalhousie University, and a BSc in Kinesiology from the University of Ottawa. She also proudly served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 14 years, first as a ship’s navigator in the Royal Canadian Navy, then as a physiotherapist.

In recognition of her research leadership in military health, she is currently the Honorary Captain (Navy) for Canadian Forces Health Services Atlantic, and a Dame of the Order of St George.  She has also received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Queen’s University, the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, and the Chapel of the Four Chaplains Legion of Honor Bronze Medallion (USA).

Craig Dalton

Craig Dalton was commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery in 1990 and over the course of a 25-year Army career, had the distinct pleasure of serving alongside Canadian soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen, as well as whole-of-government partners, both here at home in Canada, and abroad on operations, in Cyprus, Bosnia-Herzegovina and, most recently, Afghanistan. During his time in uniform, Mr. Dalton served in a wide variety of staff appointments and had the privilege to lead teams from the troop to formation level including command of the 2nd Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery and command of 5th Canadian Division Support Group/Canadian Forces Base Gagetown.

Since his release in 2014, Mr. Dalton has had the opportunity to serve at all three levels of government initially joining the Government of New Brunswick where he had privilege of serving as the Deputy Minister of Public Safety and subsequently as the Deputy Minister of Social Services. Craig then joined the Government of Prince Edward Island where he served as Deputy Minister of Family and Human Services before appointed as Canada’s Veterans Ombudsman. More recently, Mr. Dalton has worked at the local government level as the City Manager with the City of Lethbridge and in his current position as the Chief Administrative Officer with the Squamish – Lillooet Regional District.

Mr. Dalton holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the Royal Military College of Canada and holds Masters Degrees from Central Michigan University (Strategic Leadership), the United States Army Command and General Staff College (Strategy), and from Deakin University, Australia (Policy).

Inspector (Ret’d) Baltej Dhillon Hon LLD., C.Dir.

Raised in Malaysia, Baltej and his family move to British Columbia in 1983 after which they settled in Surrey. He studied criminology, and though initially interested in practicing law, he volunteered with the RCMP and acted as an interpreter so that the RCMP could communicate with recent Asian immigrants.

In 1988, Baltej decided to formally apply to join the RCMP. Though he met all the entrance requirements, he encountered one significant problem: the dress code forbade beards and wearing a turban in place of the uniform hat. In 1989, Baltej appealed to the RCMP Commissioner, who recommended new RCMP uniform regulations that would include an RCMP turban and the ability for members of the Sikh community to maintain their unshorn hair. After months of debate, the federal government announced new changes to the RCMP dress code in March of 1990 — including the freedom  for observant Sikhs to wear beards and turbans. As a result, Baltej was able to join the RCMP, train in Regina and then graduate to active duty in 1991.

Inspector Dhillon’s career with the RCMP started off in Quesnel BC where he started off as Constable serving the community . He then went to serve in other units including the Air India Task Force, Pickton serial killer investigation, Polygraph Unit, established the first Provincial Intelligence Centre in BC, served as the Non Commissioned Officer in charge of Intelligence Section, RCMP – Federal Serious Organized Crime and retired in 2019 after serving as the Officer in Charge, RCMP – Operational Readiness and Response & Protective Technical Services Section.

Inspector Dhillon has been awarded two honorary degrees of the Doctor of Laws by Kwantlen Polytech University in May 2014 and McMaster University in 2021, as well as the Distinguished Alumni Award from Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Inspector Dhillon is also  the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and earned a Commanding Officer’s Commendation for Excellence in Policing for his work on the Pickton serial killer investigation

He is a Director with WorkSafeBC, Dan’s Legacy, Coast Mental Health BC, and Chair of the Canada India Education Society and continues to serve in law enforcement as a member of the Organised Crime Agency of BC in the role of Program Manager – Crime Guns Intelligence and Investigations Group for the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit in BC.

James MacRae

James is the President and CEO of verTerra Corp., an Ottawa based real estate development and infrastructure management company. Incorporated in 2009 by James and his late partner Judy Klenik, verTerra Corp., provides management and advisory services to public and private sector clients in the investment and delivery of real estate and infrastructure assets, specializing in Public Private Partnerships. Since incorporation, verTerra has successfully managed over $1 billion dollars of capital real estate projects in Canada and the United States.

Prior to establishing verTerra, James held Senior Management positions with national and international design and construction companies. James is an Architectural Technologist, Project Management Professional, LEED Accredited Professional and a Certified Risk Management Analyst.

James is a passionate and dedicated advocate for advancing mental health care in Canada. James’s father, two of his uncles and both grandfathers were war veterans and James’s sister suffered from mental illness from her childhood to her passing in 2018. James respects and understands the impact of mental illness on the people affected their families and the systemic challenges faced by mental health care organizations. James has served as an Independent Board Trustee of the Royal Ottawa Hospital Group (ROHGC) since 2018 and served on the Board of the Royal Ottawa Volunteers Association from 2009 to 2018, including a term as Board Chair.

ABOUT THE ATLAS INSTITUTE: The Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families was originally established as the Centre of Excellence on PTSD through the Minister of Veterans Affairs 12 November 2015 mandate letter with funding and budget announced in the March 2017 federal budget.

In announcing his retirement, Dr. Smith said he has always known his role was to build a foundation of solid business practices, establish and support meaningful stakeholder engagement, and recruit a strong team who could support a smoothly running operation into the future. “This was not a timeline specific purpose, but rather one of building the team, getting things firing on all cylinders, and stepping away to watch the organization take flight,” he said.

Reflecting on building a pan-Canadian presence for a new organization during a global pandemic, Dr. Smith says the successes achieved in the very short term of the Centre’s existence, are beyond his expectations. “We have established a Network of Networks model anchored by four reference groups reflective of diverse Veterans, Veteran Families, service providers, and researchers. We’ve also established an international reputation as a trusted research partner and have built strategic partnerships with Veteran and Family-serving organizations. We’ve built a team of experts including Veteran and Family advisors embedded into the fabric of how we work. This model of partnering with lived expertise guides us in helping to build access to safe, high-quality resources and supports that protect the dignity of Veterans and Veteran Families, and provide a foundation for hope, connection, and community.”

Scott McLean, Chair of the CoE’s Board, said while seeing a visionary leader such as Dr. Smith move on from the Centre is difficult, he is confident in the strong foundation that has been built. “I would like to congratulate Patrick on bringing us to where we are today, and wish him well in his retirement. I would also like to welcome Fardous Hosseiny as our incoming President and CEO. Having worked extensively with him at a leadership level, I am confident in the future of the Centre of Excellence and the strength of the leadership team as we move into this next stage of the organization.”

Fardous Hosseiny said he is deeply honoured to be entrusted with the opportunity to move ahead with the direction set with Veterans and their Family members over the past several months, and on the strength of the foundation that was built with Dr. Smith. Hosseiny added that he is pleased to work with MaryAnn Notarianni who will step into the role of Deputy CEO and Vice President, Knowledge Mobilization, and Joy Pavelich who will round out the Executive leadership team as Executive Vice-President of Strategy and Operations.

“Having collaborated with both MaryAnn and Joy closely over the past year and a half in working through our foundational build and engagement with our community, I am confident in our shared vision in support of the Veterans and Families who are looking to us for leadership to bring the work of the Centre to life.”

Fardous Hosseiny, President and CEO, Atlas

Announced by the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence in May of 2018, the mandate of the CoE – PTSD is to advance mental health, research, and support to improve treatment for Canada’s Military and RCMP Veterans and their Families across the country.

Report Indicates Moms, Dads, Siblings and even Grandparents Play Significant Support Roles

Ottawa, ON — November 16, 2021 — New findings reveal the parents and Families of military Veterans are often a forgotten yet vital support network helping to prevent suicide among our armed services men and women.

And these Family members also experience trauma of their own while attempting to care for military personnel and Veterans in crisis, while facing a lack of information, resources, and professional supports.

These revelations are contained in a research project co-led by the Centre of Excellence on PTSD (CoE – PTSD), which is hosting the Families Matter webinar on November 24, sharing early findings from Drs. Heidi Cramm and Denise DuBois of the Families Matter Research Group at Queen’s University.

The webinar will provide the opportunity to discuss these findings with a diverse group of panelists. It will bring the experiences and needs of Families to the forefront of the discussion, exploring how, when, and where Families are included in the discourse of military and Veteran suicide prevention initiatives internationally.

Fardous Hosseiny, Deputy CEO of the CoE – PTSD said that engaging in this research reflects a shift in thinking about Families of military and Veterans not only to support operational readiness, but also in how they have their own needs and experiences related to military service.

Suicide and suicide prevention are ongoing concerns within military and Veteran communities around the world. Dr. Cramm emphasizes how suicide deeply affects military and Veteran Families in multiple ways: “Service personnel and Veterans lost to suicide are people who are part of Family ecosystems. Their experiences do not happen in isolation. There is a ripple effect on the Family unit,” she said. “Our research is intended to look beyond the individual, to strengthen not just them, but the systems which surround them, as well as the Family members themselves who are also personally impacted.”

The project has looked at military and Veteran suicide research, as well as suicide prevention policies and programs in countries including Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Israel, and Denmark. This international comparison has shown both how Families have been included in policies, programs, and services, and the ongoing disparities in research and services that exist.

Hosseiny said that, to date, there had not been a systematic synthesis of research evidence aimed at understanding how military and Veteran Families have been engaged within military systems in suicide prevention, crisis interventions, or postvention, or how research evidence is reflected in policies, services, and programs for military and Veteran Families.

“We have repeatedly heard from our community of Veteran and Family members that the issue of suicide has to be front and centre in our work. They’ve also told us that Family, and expansion of Family peer support, are immeasurably important in suicide prevention,” Hosseiny said. “Looking at what is working globally will help us build both general and Canada-specific recommendations and identify future priorities for research, programming, and policy.”

You can find out more information and access the registration link via Families Matter – Centre of Excellence on PTSD

The Centre of Excellence on PTSD and Related Mental Health Conditions wants to shine a light on the emotional complexities and conflicts, compounded by COVID-19, that arise for many Veterans during the holiday season.

CANADA — December 8, 2020 — There are just under 650,000 Veterans in Canada, as well as countless families, caregivers, friends, doctors, colleagues, and others who have a Veteran in their inner circle. For many, the holidays can bring a feeling of anxiety and pressure to “play a part” in the rituals of the season. For many Veterans, the holiday season can be a hard reminder of celebrations missed, of comrades who have lost their lives tragically, and of the deep suffering seen in war zones. For many families this may be their first holiday season without their loved one. For many Veterans who have seen the poverty and scarcity experienced by so many around the world, this time can feel wasteful and upsetting. However, joy, gratitude and love are felt by many as well. The holidays are a time of emotional complexities.

The Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Related Mental Health Conditions wants Veterans, their families, friends, and caregivers to know it is normal to be surrounded by people and still feel loneliness. Veterans can be spreading kindness during this season and still feel hopeless. It’s possible to be experiencing the joys of this season with people you love and still feel discouraged. Veterans and their loved ones are not alone – there are many resources that can help.

“The holidays can create pressure for Veterans to push through the negative feelings at this time of year.  Pressure to act as though everything is OK, spend money that isn’t there and push feelings of depression and anxiety away, can cause a deep loneliness. I have been there; my first Christmas back was extremely challenging and clouded by painful memories,”

Brian McKenna, retired Warrant Officer and Veteran Advisor at the Centre of Excellence on PTSD and Related Mental Health Conditions.

Our goal this holiday season is to bring awareness to the challenges the holidays can bring up for Veterans and their families while ensuring Veterans feel seen and valid in their emotions. Together we can have hope for the future.

THE CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE ON PTSD AND RELATED MENTAL HEALTH CONDITIONS WANTS TO HELP VETERANS KNOW THAT THEIR FEELINGS ABOUT THE HOLIDAYS ARE VALID. THEY ARE SEEN AND THEY ARE NOT ALONE.

“We know the holidays can be a complex time for Veterans, their loved ones and others who live with PTSD; however, there are resources to help. If you are in crisis, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Talk to your doctor or health care provider or contact a Veteran mental health specialist at 1-800-268-7708 to speak to someone who can walk with you on your healing journey,” said Dr. Patrick D. Smith, President and CEO of the Centre of Excellence on PTSD and Related Mental Health Conditions. “We want Canadian Veterans to know you are seen, you are not alone and, together, we can have hope.”

The newly created Centre of Excellence on PTSD has also just launched their website, atlasveterans.ca/, which has resources for those living with PTSD and other mental health conditions, Veterans, Veteran Families, and those being affected by the stress of COVID-19.

ATLASVETERANS.CA HAS RESOURCES, TOOLS, AND INFORMATION TO HELP VETERANS, THEIR FAMILIES, AND THEIR CAREGIVERS ON A JOURNEY TOWARD MENTAL WELLNESS.

The Centre of Excellence on PTSD website has information on PTSD treatments, how to talk to your kids about PTSD, how to protect your mental health during COVID-19, and where to get help, as well as many other useful tools. The Centre of Excellence on PTSD aims to improve the well-being of Canadian Veterans and their families.

VIEW THE VIDEO HERE: https://atlasveterans.ca/news/message-of-hope-tis-the-season-to-support-veterans-and-veteran-families/

About Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Related Mental Heath

The Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Related Mental Health Conditions functions as a “Network of Networks.” This Network is made up of an Advisory Committee, community-based Reference Groups, and communities of practice where lived experience is valued as much as technical expertise.

The Centre’s Advisory Committee directly informs the Centre’s knowledge, practice, and policy work. This Committee is comprised of representatives from four community-based Reference Groups: Veterans, Veteran Family Members, service providers, and researchers.

Our common purpose is to improve the well-being of Canadian Veterans and their families.

Media Inquiries:
Laila Srigley
Laila@bombinate.ca
(905) 324-9143

For many Veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces, their military service is the best time of their lives. It is a time of peak physical condition and close-knit camaraderie, where comrades have your back and everyone has a meaningful role. Working together to serve and protect the country involves a deep and abiding sense of mission and purpose, all based on a military code of duty, pride and honour that can be difficult for civilians to understand.

Release from the service can be a huge shock, and civilian society can be perceived as slack and indifferent in equal measure. This can make social connection difficult, with one study indicating that one-third of Canadian Veterans experience low levels of social support after release, which can contribute towards loneliness, isolation, and mental health challenges.

In fact, one large scale Veterans Affairs Canada survey reports that 24% of regular force Veterans have a diagnosed mental illness such as anxiety, depression or PTSD. While suicide remains a rare event for Veterans, another report released earlier this year indicates that Veterans have a 40% higher risk of dying by suicide than non-Veterans.

Importantly, Veterans’ mental health and social integration are hampered by harmful stereotypes, based upon unfounded concerns that Veterans are a threat to the public and primed to ‘snap’ unpredictably. For example, one US study found that Veterans reported that people often perceived them as ‘crazy’, ‘dangerous’ or ‘violent’, while another US study found that hiring managers often held negative stereotypes that Veterans are ‘bitter’, ‘angry’ or ‘withdrawn’.

However, some research indicates that journalism can contribute to such harmful stereotypes. One report notes that the US media often frames Veterans in unflattering terms, referring to them as ‘ticking time bombs’ or ‘damaged and unstable’, with an absence of positive, well-rounded stories. This situation led the US National Veterans Foundation to state that ‘the media is the main culprit in fostering negative stereotypes about Veterans’.

To date, most research on media coverage of Veterans has come from the US, with an absence of research on this topic in Canada. That said, the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada states in its Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy that a desirable activity is ‘working to promote responsible media reporting’ of Veterans, as well as to ‘encourage safe media reporting of suicide’.

To this end, the Centre of Excellence on PTSD and Related Mental Health Conditions recently commissioned a two-year research project aiming to assess the tone and content of media coverage of Veterans in Canada, led by Dr. Rob Whitley at McGill University. This involves examining overall patterns of reporting, as well as a comparative analysis investigating differences in coverage according to factors including age, gender, and theatre of operation. The project team includes Veterans, Veterans’ family members, journalists and researchers working together collaboratively.

The ultimate aim of this research is to produce educational material to help journalists report about Veterans in a holistic and responsible manner, moving beyond any stereotypes to chronicle the diversity of Veterans’ experiences. Indeed, we aim to share the study results and educational material with journalism schools, newsrooms, and media outlets across Canada.

We all have a role to play in promoting the mental health and social integration of our Veterans. This includes journalists and the media, a vital part of civil society that can help foster a culture of inclusion, appreciation and understanding of Veterans. This can counter Hollywood-inspired stereotypes that foster fear and suspicion of Veterans.

This can ultimately improve Veterans’ mental health, and ensure the country is truly fit for heroes. Lest we forget.

Rob Whitley is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University and a Research Scientist at the Douglas Research Centre. Robert.whitley@mcgill.ca 514-761-6131

Brian McKenna is a retired Warrant Officer who is the Veterans Advisor to the Centre of Excellence on PTSD and Related Mental Health Conditions. Brian.McKenna@theroyal.ca 778-592-4888

OTTAWA, ON – The Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Related Mental Health Conditions, in collaboration with the Douglas Hospital Research Centre, has launched a new study of how suicide and mental health are portrayed in the media, with a focus on Canadian Veterans.

“The study is conducted in close consultation with Veterans, Veteran Families, journalists, journalism schools, national media associations, and media outlets,” says Dr. Patrick Smith, CEO and Founder of the Centre of Excellence on PTSD. “Our hope is this work will gain much-needed attention in order to reduce stigma surrounding Veteran mental health and set a new standard of excellence in Canadian journalism.”

This unique action-research study will assess the tone and content of stories surrounding Veterans’ mental health and suicide in the Canadian media.  The findings will be used to create interventions that can help raise awareness among journalists about the issues related to Veterans’ mental health and suicide. The development of these interventions will be informed by an advisory group of journalists, Veterans, and Veteran Family Members.

Dr. Rob Whitley, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University and Research Scientist, Douglas Research Centre, says this project takes a truly collaborative approach. “We all have a role to play in creating a climate of inclusion and integration for our military veterans,” he says. “This includes journalists and the media, a vital part of civil society that can counter Hollywood stereotypes through nuanced and balanced perspectives”.

Evidence indicates military Veterans are a group with higher rates of suicide. Male Veterans overall are at a 1.4 times higher risk of dying by suicide compared to the general Canadian male population. Female Veterans have a risk that is 1.9 times higher compared to the general female Canadian population.

In 2005, research indicated that the media tended to portray mental health issues negatively. The issue is complex, but it has been shown that responsible media coverage of suicide and related mental health issues can create a climate that facilitates help-seeking behaviour, public empathy, and social interventions.

The goal of the research is to study the tone and content of Veteran media coverage, and ultimately to help journalists and communicators powerfully and positively report on Veteran mental health. This is timely as we approach the peak of Veteran media coverage on Remembrance Day.

To further support responsible reporting surrounding Remembrance Day, on Wednesday, November 4, 2020 at 1 p.m. EST, the Centre of Excellence on PTSD will host a virtual event as part of their Compelling Conversations Series titled “The Power of the Media: Impact on Veteran Stories.” Attendees can expect to learn from the lived experiences and perspectives of a Veteran, Veteran family member, and a journalist as Remembrance Day approaches. Additional participants will include Dr. Patrick Smith, CEO and Founder of the Centre of Excellence on PTSD, and Dr. Rob Whitley, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University and Research Scientist, Douglas Research Centre. The virtual panel will be moderated by Graham Richardson, Chief News Anchor for CTV News at Six and afternoon news anchor on Newstalk 580 CFRA.

LONDON, ON – Lawson Health Research Institute and the Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are partnering with a population at high risk of mental illness – Canadian Veterans and spouses of Canadian Veterans – to study how they have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through online surveys, the project will hear directly from Veterans and their spouses to assess the pandemic’s effects on their wellbeing over time. The team hopes results can be used by health care workers and policymakers to support Veterans and their families during both the current pandemic and future public health emergencies.

“With concerns about COVID-19 infection and drastic changes to everyday life, the pandemic is taking a toll on the health of Canadians,” explains Dr. Don Richardson, Lawson Associate Scientist and Director of the MacDonald Franklin Operational Stress Injury (OSI) Research Centre. “And it may be particularly distressing for those vulnerable to mental illness.”

Population studies show that Canadian Veterans are at double the risk of mental illness when compared to the rest of the population. They experience higher rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness. Spouses of Canadian Veterans are also at higher risk of distress, sometimes undertaking significant caregiving responsibilities that lead to less independence.

“It’s currently unknown how the pandemic will impact Veterans and their spouses, but it could result in particularly serious outcomes,” says Dr. Anthony Nazarov, Associate Scientist at Lawson and the MacDonald Franklin OSI Research Centre. “We want to hear from all Canadian Veterans and their spouses, whether they’re doing well or not and whether they’re seeking care or not.”

The study aims to recruit 1,000 Canadian Veterans and 250 spouses of Canadian Veterans. Participants will complete online surveys, available in both English and French, once every three months for a total of 18 months. They will be asked questions about their psychological, social, family-related and physical wellbeing, and any relevant changes to their lifestyle and health care treatment.

“Veterans who regularly access health care services could encounter significant changes, including a move to virtual care appointments. This could lead to increased caregiving responsibilities for spouses,” says Dr. Nazarov. “Given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, these changes may persist well into the future, mandating a thorough assessment of patient satisfaction and treatment outcomes.”

The team hopes results can be used to support the wellness of Veterans and their families during public health emergencies. This includes providing health care professionals and policymakers with information to guide emergency preparedness policies and health care delivery models. They hope results can also be used to recognize early signs of distress in order to target with early interventions.

“We are seeking to understand the impact of COVID-19 on Veterans and their families to identify if this global pandemic is leading to psychological distress or triggering historical traumas,” says Dr. Patrick Smith, CEO of the Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “The Centre’s primary goal is to increase Canadian expertise related to military and Veteran mental health, suicide prevention and substance use disorders. This study can help us understand if the pandemic is having debilitating and life-altering effects, and help us address a potential mental health crisis.”

Interested Canadian Veterans and spouses of Canadian Veterans can learn more about the study at www.veteransurvey.ca.

Lawson Health Research Institute is one of Canada’s top hospital-based research institutes, tackling the most pressing challenges in health care. As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, our innovation happens where care is delivered. Lawson research teams are at the leading-edge of science with the goal of improving health and the delivery of care for patients. Working in partnership with Western University, our researchers are encouraged to pursue their curiosity, collaborate often and share their discoveries widely. Research conducted through Lawson makes a difference in the lives of patients, families and communities around the world. To learn more, visit www.lawsonresearch.ca.

The Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Related Mental Health Conditions is located at the Royal Ottawa Hospital and is funded by Veterans Affairs Canada.

Its goal is to build strong community networks to create the best possible supports and services for Veterans, first responders, service providers, and their families. It does this through knowledge and practice activities:

  • conducts and facilitates applied research in PTSD and related mental health conditions
  • widely shares information and knowledge about PTSD and mental health conditions and how to treat them
  • transforms knowledge into training and resources to ensure veterans, first responders, and service providers, and their families are receiving the best possible supports and services
  • shares standards for emerging and best practices with policy makers, mental health professionals, the Veteran Affairs Canada network of Operational Stress Injury Clinics, and Canadian Forces Health Services

The Centre’s primary goal is to increase Canadian expertise related to military and veteran mental health, suicide prevention, and substance use disorders, ultimately making this knowledge available to any first responders, family members, service providers, and researchers across Canada.