Multiple studies are reporting the pandemic’s impact on the mental health of Canadians, but what effect is it having on our nation’s Veterans and their spouses?
“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, Associate Scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute and Director of the MacDonald Franklin Operational Stress Injury (OSI) Research Centre, located at St. Joseph’s Health Care London’s Parkwood Institute. “And it may be particularly distressing for those vulnerable to mental illness.”
Population studies show that 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, as they may sometimes undertake significant caregiving responsibilities that that require significant emotional and time investments.
“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.
In a new project from Lawson and the Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), researchers will seek answers to these questions by partnering with up to 1,000 Canadian Veterans and 250 spouses of Canadian Veterans. Through online surveys, the project will hear directly from Veterans and their spouses to assess the pandemic’s effects on their well-being over time. The team hopes results can be used by health care workers and policy-makers to support Veterans and their families during both the current pandemic and future public health emergencies.
“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,” explains Dr. Nazarov.
From left: Drs. Don Richardson and Anthony Nazarov
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 well-being, 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 policy-makers 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 PTSD. “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.”
Dr. Patrick Smith