LONDON, ONTARIO - 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.

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MEDIA CONTACT

Robert DeLaet, Communications Consultant, Lawson Health Research Institute, t. 519.619.3872, robert.delaet@lawsonresearch.com

ABOUT LAWSON HEALTH RESEARCH INSTITUTE

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. 

ABOUT The Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Related Mental Health Conditions

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.

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