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Atlas Institute undertakes and supports research that seeks to improve the well-being of Veterans and their Families. Our research is driven by a commitment to mental health equity and is informed by Veterans Affairs Canada’s seven domains of well-being, which include the social determinants of health. We design our research projects so they answer the questions that matter to Veterans and their Families.

Our current projects include appraising the evidence for peer support, creating a sound measure of moral injury, and assessing the prevalence of intimate partner violence in military and Veteran Families. Whether we are leading studies or supporting our research partners in their endeavours, Atlas aligns its research efforts with what Veterans and their Families tell us are their unique mental health care and treatment needs.

For the 2023-24 fiscal year, Atlas and its research partners launched seven new studies focusing on topics including:

  • Women Veterans’ well-being
  • Neurofeedback
  • Vicarious traumatization
  • Identity-based moral injury
  • Adult children of Veterans
  • Suicidality
  • Chronic pain and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Purpose

Our researchers are driven by curiosity and a desire for meaningful change. They have made significant advances when it comes to understanding:

  • The causes of PTSD and related mental health conditions
  • Preventative interventions for mental health problems
  • Improvements to a broad range of treatments and therapies

We are also researching how characteristics that shape who Veterans and their Families are as people — such as gender, age, race and sexual orientation — also shape their well-being outcomes.

Approach

Atlas is committed to being a leader in equitable, inclusive and relevant research. We know that Veterans and their Families have the lived and living expertise that is vital to ensuring that our research is meaningful and successful. That’s why Veterans and their Families are our partners and collaborators in every part of our research process.

At the core of our work is the lived experience of Veterans and their Families. We act on their recommendations for what topics and concerns should be priorities for research. We ask for their guidance throughout the research process — from creating research questions, study aims and designs to launching recruitment and knowledge mobilization activities. This collaborative approach ensures that all research conducted or supported by Atlas is responsive to the community’s unique needs, goals and values.

Our principles extend to intentional integration of the diversity present in these communities. All studies conducted or supported by Atlas incorporate an intersectional/SGBA+ framework. This means that every project considers how multiple characteristics — ability, age, culture, education, ethnicity, gender, geography, income, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation — interact with one another to shape differences in mental health needs and outcomes.

Our Research and Policy team collaborates with researchers and clinicians in Canada and around the world. By merging our collective expertise, we build strong networks capable of taking on the questions that matter to Veterans and their Families. Atlas research is ultimately designed and executed to ensure that Veterans and their Families, service providers and researchers have access to the latest evidence that can then be translated into programming, practice and policy.

Intended outcomes

Our differentiated approach to research will help to improve collective understanding and inform systemic changes in mental health care for Veterans and their Families.

Generate new Canadian knowledge about PTSD and related mental health conditions that responds to the needs and priorities of Veterans and their Families.

Undertake research that answers the questions that are the most urgent for Veterans and their Families.

Prioritize Veteran and Family in research on PTSD and related mental health conditions.

Identify and address the information gap about trauma-related mental health to improve care and treatment options for Veterans and their Families.

  • Publish policy recommendations and contribute to the policy conversation on emerging and timely issues, such as moral injury, military sexual trauma (MST) and peer support.
  • Inform evidence-based mental health policy decisions as they relate to the well-being of Veterans and their Families.

Our research teams

The Atlas Institute is fortunate to have three teams dedicated to research. Our teams apply their combined expertise from social and developmental psychology, neuroscience, psychiatry, philosophy, epidemiology, social work and public health to the study of Veteran and Family mental health and well-being.

The Applied Research team’s work is informed by the social determinants of health and a biopsychosocial approach to mental health.

With a strong emphasis on interview and survey-based research methods, we strive to answer underexplored questions.

We use qualitative research methods to capture and describe Veterans’ and Families’ lived experiences of a certain phenomenon. In these studies, we strive to offer a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the nature and meaning of human experiences. In parallel, we recognize the importance of quantitative research in providing a broader perspective and generating robust data to support service and program improvements. Our statistical analyses examine trends over time, systemic issues, and health disparities among Veterans and their Families.

By blending qualitative and quantitative research methods, we bring together the power of personal stories and statistical evidence to drive change. Our interdisciplinary approach allows us to conduct research from multiple perspectives, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the complex experiences of Veterans and their Families.

The Research Partnerships team endeavours to enhance knowledge and research capacity throughout Canada. Through the provision of funding opportunities and collaborative partnership agreements, including targeting emerging researchers, we strive to expand our understanding of diverse subjects pertaining to the mental health and well-being of Veterans and their Families.

Annually, we offer collaborative funding opportunities through a transparent and equitable request for proposal (RFP) process, ensuring a competitive selection process.

To secure funding, researchers are required to demonstrate, within the RFP framework, how their research aligns with the overarching mission of the Atlas Institute, how their project will positively impact Veteran and Family communities, and how individuals with lived and living experiences will be actively engaged throughout every stage of the research endeavour.

The specific topics addressed through our funding rounds are tailored to reflect the identified needs derived from a comprehensive analysis of research and knowledge mobilization gaps and invaluable insights shared directly by the Veteran and Family communities.

The Clinical Research team aims to better understand the neurobiological basis of the mental health conditions that can affect Veterans and their Families and to develop novel treatment and assessment tools for these conditions.

Here, we take a multipronged approach to investigating the neural pathways that may lead to mental illness. By partnering with the Brain Imaging Centre at the Royal Ottawa Hospital, we implement neuroimaging methods (i.e. fMRI, PET and EEG) to study the brain. Importantly, our brain imaging studies are often paired with qualitative research methods (i.e. 1:1 interviews and focus groups), such that the lived experience of Veterans and Families effectively guide our study design and planned analyses.

We are also developing a number of novel treatment interventions for trauma and stressor-related disorders (including neurofeedback, and cognitive behavioural therapies), as well as new assessment tools for mental health conditions.

Further, our team is involved in training the next generation of clinician-scientists at the University of Ottawa within the School of Psychology and the Faculty of Medicine graduate programs (i.e. teaching courses and supervising graduate students).

Areas of specialization

Our areas of specialization offer a framework to guide the Atlas Institute as it undertakes research in support of Veteran and Family well-being. The focus areas align with our mandate to build the Canadian evidence base on Veteran and Veteran Family well-being and the organization’s strategic zones of focus, which reflect our commitment to integrating the perspectives of Veterans and Veteran Family members in our work.

  • Risk and protective factors
    • Characteristics or events that increase or decrease the likelihood of a given mental health outcome
  • Biological, psychological and social mechanisms
    • Underlying factors that, alone or by interacting with one another, contribute to some aspect of mental health
  • Screening and assessment
    • Tools designed and used to identify the presence and/or severity of a particular mental health problem or illness
  • Treatments, interventions and supports
    • Pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical responses designed to improve, maintain and support well-being including but not limited to: medications, cognitive therapy, peer support and acupuncture
  • Service design and delivery
    • Features of health care services, including structure and function, access and use, navigation, and Veteran and Veteran Family experience

Mobilizing knowledge

Making research accessible and understandable to the people who need it is core to what we do at Atlas. Our research teams work closely with knowledge mobilization and implementation specialists to bridge the gap between academic knowledge and the diverse communities we serve, recognizing that the impact of our work lies not only in publishing evidence-based research, but also in effectively communicating it to Veterans, Families and other stakeholders. Through clear and accessible resources, presentations and engagement initiatives, we collaborate to foster awareness, inform policy discussions, and empower individuals to make informed decisions regarding Veteran and Family well-being.

Research spotlight

Women Veterans’ well-being study

Are you a woman who has served in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)? Consider participating in a new study by the Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families.

The Atlas Institute is launching a study to ask how women accessed care during service and how they are accessing care now. The study will also examine how women Veterans have supported their own well-being and their current mental and physical health. And it will ask about experiences working in the CAF or RCMP.

The study has been designed for women Veterans with women Veterans who understand the unique challenges that come with a life of service.

Contribute to the evidence about women Veterans’ health and well-being needs, inform recommendations for improving care and join a group of women Veterans passionate about making a difference!

Learn more and participate: atl-as.ca/women-veteran-study

Questions?

✉️ atlasresearch@theroyal.ca

Unlocking minds: Atlas Institute’s Clinical Research team presents at The Royal’s Research Week Discovery Fair

The Atlas Institute’s Clinical Research team was at the 2024 Discovery Fair, an annual celebration of research excellence at The Royal. The team presented their work in neuroimaging and mental health, specifically within the area of neurofeedback. The team conducted live demonstrations of their portable EEG electrode systems for students, clinicians, fellow researchers and other curious attendees. Team members also offered attendees a glimpse into ongoing studies exploring minority stress and vicarious traumatization among Veterans and their partners.

The Atlas Institute’s Clinical Research team.
The Atlas Institute’s Clinical Research team.

Qualitative study on the experiences of adult children of CAF Veterans

Family members of CAF Veterans often face unique challenges related to military culture, including relocation, prolonged separation and heightened awareness of the serving member’s safety. Adult children of CAF Veterans represent an understudied population, creating a significant gap in our knowledge of how children of military Families adapt and experience resilience and how these capacities may be sustained through adulthood.

Adult children who participate in this study will provide insight into how their experiences influenced their adult lives. The study will involve participation in a virtual interview lasting 60 to 90 minutes. Participants must be 18 years of age or older and a child of a CAF Veteran with the Regular Force and/or Reserve Class A, B or C to be included in this study. Note: Adult children of CAF Veterans with the Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service (COATS) or Cadet Instructors Cadre (CIC) instructors and adult children of currently serving CAF members are not eligible to participate.

For more information on this study, please contact Cassandra McDonald:

✉️ cassandra.mcdonald@msvu.ca

Getting involved in research at Atlas

Recruiting studies

Interested in participating in research? Research participation helps expand our understanding of Veteran and Family mental health and well-being and can support the improvement of treatments, programs and services. The Atlas Institute leads and supports research projects and new opportunities to participate, with varying levels of involvement, regularly become available. Check out a few of the studies currently looking for participants!

Led by Atlas

Examining the association between unmet health and well-being needs and mental health for women Veterans of the CAF and RCMP
Led by Dr. Sara Rodrigues and Dr. Kate Hill MacEachern, Applied Research, Atlas Institute

Participate now: atl-as.ca/women-veteran-study

Questions?

✉️ atlasresearch@theroyal.ca

Couples and Secondary Traumatic Stress (CaSTS) study
Led by Dr. Andrew Nicholson, Clinical Research, Atlas Institute

Find out if you’re eligible to participate — email Ella Bawagan:

✉️ ella.bawagan@theroyal.ca

Self-regulation of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) neurocircuitry using multiple sessions of real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (rt-fMRI)
Led by Dr. Andrew Nicholson, Clinical Research, Atlas Institute

Find out if you’re eligible to participate — email Ella Bawagan:

✉️ ella.bawagan@theroyal.ca

Supported by Atlas

Feasibility and effectiveness of a cognitive rehabilitation intervention for Veterans with mTBI
Led by McMaster University Talklab

Studying the effectiveness and implementation of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga for Canadian Veterans with PTSD
Led by Sinai Health System — Bridgepoint Collaboratory for Research and Innovation

Brain measures linked to hyperarousal in PTSD using MRI imaging
Led by the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Mental Health Research at the Royal

Other ways to get involved

The Atlas Institute works closely with Veterans, Families, service providers, and researchers to bridge the divide between research and practice. To expand our connections with the Veteran and Family community, we have developed a volunteer Cadre of Canadian Armed Forces Veterans and former members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The key goals we aim to achieve with the Cadre are to:

  • Help Atlas Institute engage and work with a larger and more diverse group including Francophone Veterans and Families
  • Improve our ability to connect with individuals with lived expertise who are available to participate in projects, including research projects
  • Expand our ability to link individuals with lived expertise to partners and other collaborators who need this expertise for their work Members of the Cadre would have opportunities to collaborate with us in a range of ways:
    • Advising us on issues important to the community
    • Informing and guiding projects
    • Participating in surveys, panels, webinars and town hall events

Latest publications

Covid-19 Mental health

Reimagining effective workplace support for health workers
2024-06-01

Jenny JW Liu, Anthony Nazarov, Patrick Smith, Andrea Phelps, David Forbes, Nicole Sadler, Fardous Hosseiny, Sarah Dougherty, Rosilee Peto, Marion Cooper, Marc Bilodeau, Suzanne Bailey, Jodi Younger, Adam Dukelow, Sandy Jansen, Andrew Davidson, Cara Vaccarino, Karen Monaghan, Sandra Northcott, Linda Mohri, Patricia Hoffer, J Don Richardson

Bulletin of the World Health Organization
Read the paper


Covid-19 Burnout

Determinants of burnout in Canadian health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic
2024-05-22

Nancy Liu, Rachel A Plouffe, Jenny J W Liu, Maede S Nouri, Priyonto Saha, Dominic Gargala, Brent D Davis, Anthony Nazarov, J Don Richardson

European Journal of Psychotraumatology
Read the paper


Mental health Veteran Families

Military suicide prevention: Do families matter?
2024-05-08

Denise DuBois, Janette Leroux, Sinead George, Fezan Khokhar, Heidi Cramm

Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health
Read the paper

Research funding opportunities

The Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families has created new research funding opportunities. Read more:

Research Compass newsletter

Research Compass is the Atlas Institute’s regular newsletter about our Veteran and Family well-being research.

In each issue, you can expect a diverse range of content, including research highlights, links to access our latest results, a behind-the-scenes look at how we conduct research and updates on ongoing projects. We will also provide information about upcoming events, training opportunities and resources that can further enhance your understanding and engagement with research.

Research Compass — Issue 2 (March 2024)

Research Compass — Issue 1 (August 2023)

Explore our research studies

Join our recruiting studies and help turn your experiences into learnings that inform treatments and policies. You can also access information about the processes and the results of our non-recruiting and completed studies.