Study shows a decline in Veterans’ mental health throughout the pandemic

LONDON, ON – In newly-published findings from Lawson Health Research Institute, more than half of Canadian Veterans report a decline in their mental health over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it comes to mental health conditions, Veterans are an at-risk population, often having higher rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, scientists at Lawson wanted to understand its effects on this already at-risk population.

“We anticipated the ongoing pandemic would have impacts to multiple domains of life such as loneliness, isolation, depression and PTSD,” says Associate Scientist at Lawson and the MacDonald Franklin Operational Stress Injury (OSI) Research Centre, Dr. Anthony Nazarov.

To examine the potential impacts the research team launched a longitudinal study in early 2021, recruiting Canadian Veterans and spouses of Canadian Veterans. A total of 1,136 Veterans have participated in the study which spans over 18 months. Participants complete online questionnaires every three months, with questions focused on mental health and virtual health care services.

“We looked at use of care services, including virtual care services, which we know have been on the rise during the pandemic,” says Lawson Associate Scientist and Scientific Director of the Macdonald Franklin OSI Research Centre, Dr. Don Richardson.

Dr. Don Richardson, Dr. Anthony Nasarov

The team recently published preliminary findings based on the Veterans portion of the study, which confirm a decline in mental health amongst the Veterans that took part.

“One of the important preliminary findings demonstrated a little more than 55 per cent of Veterans (55.9 per cent) have indicated that their mental health has worsened over the pandemic.” explains Dr. Richardson.

The findings also revealed that nearly one in five Veterans used virtual health care and telepsychiatry services and found them to be helpful.

“Veterans have been having positive experiences with virtual care for mental health support,” adds Dr. Nazarov. “Most found it helpful, and more importantly, many would like to continue to use this form of health care services even post pandemic.”

The preliminary study findings have been published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology. The longitudinal study will wrap up this summer, and then the team hopes to use the information to improve and innovate different forms of mental health supports for Veterans and their spouses in the future.


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