The unique and challenging experiences faced by Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Veterans puts this group at high risk for developing symptoms of mental health disorders, such as Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. Researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute (Lawson) have been awarded over $40,000 from Veterans Affairs Canada to study various risk and protective factors associated with mental health disorders in CAF Veterans.
The study aims to learn whether an individual’s personality traits serve as risk or protective factors for Veterans developing mental health problems. The traits that will be examined include openness, agreeableness, emotionality, honesty-humility, conscientiousness, extraversion, and resiliency. For example, someone who is high in openness and resiliency may have a lower risk of developing mental health symptoms.
“Veterans and military members experience uniquely challenging events when compared to the general population,” explains Dr. Rachel Plouffe, study co-lead and Postdoctoral Associate at Lawson. “Past research has identified some risk factors, including history of childhood trauma, age, gender, and education. However, no one to date has investigated the role that personality traits might play in Veterans’ symptoms of mental health conditions.”
The research team will look at the relationship between these personality traits, exposure to stressful experiences during military operations, and mental health outcomes through survey data provided by 500 treatment-seeking and non-treatment seeking Veterans. This information will be used to assess whether the individual’s expression of these personality traits can predict levels of depression, anxiety and PTSD.
They also hope to determine whether the association between combat exposure and PTSD is stronger for those higher in traits such as emotionality, which reflects those who tend to be anxious and fearful. On the other hand, this association will likely be weaker for those higher in more “positive” traits, such as agreeableness, as these individuals tend to be cooperative and forgiving toward others.
Plouffe notes that personalities are not completely stagnant. Certain traits can often change over time, and individuals can work to increase their levels of resiliency.
“Ultimately, our hope is to help improve the ability of CAF members and Veterans to thrive even in the face of great adversity. With the findings from our research, military organizations and mental health treatment centres could use the information from this study to predict which patients may be at greater risk of developing mental health disorders, and provide tailored treatment for these individuals,” she explains.
“This research is needed for military organizations to improve and implement strategies that enhance the well-being of Veterans and active service members,” says Dr. Don Richardson, study co-lead and Director of the MacDonald Franklin OSI Research Centre at Lawson. “Our Veterans give a lot to serve and protect, so it is our duty as researchers and clinicians to find ways that we can better serve them.”