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New study to look at how Canada's veterans have been impacted by COVID-19

The Lawson Health Research Institute is partnering with the Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Ottawa to study how Canada’s veterans have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study will be led by London’s Lawson Health Research Institute

A new study led by the Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ont. will examine how Canada's veterans have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The Lawson Health Research Institute is partnering with the Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Ottawa to study how Canada's veterans have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Existing studies show that Canadian veterans face double the risk of mental illness compared to the rest of the population. They experience higher rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness.

Dr. Anthony Nazarov, an associate scientist at Lawson, says issues veterans are experiencing may be exacerbated during the pandemic.

"We know that some veterans and their families may have already been struggling with issues before the pandemic. The drastic changes that have happened during the pandemic may have made things even worse for some, may be better, but we really don't know unless we actually collect these experiences and really synthesize them," said Nazarov.

Partner's perspective

The study will also look at how spouses of veterans are coping because they take on significant caregiving responsibilities, especially when their partners are struggling with mental health issues.

"We do know that social isolation is an issue, as well. If individuals are following social-distancing rules, the further reductions in social interaction really may make it a more difficult situation at home, especially if you're having issues already," said Nazarov.

The researchers also want to look at the spousal perspective because "it's a voice that's rarely been called upon to understand how they feel."

The study will attempt to recruit 1,000 veterans and 250 spouses of veterans. Participants will complete online surveys once every three months, over the course 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.

The research team hopes the results can be used by health care workers and policymakers to support veterans and their families during public health emergencies, and to recognize early signs of distress, in order to target with early interventions.

Risk factors

Nazarov says researchers want to know who is doing well and who is doing poorly, and whether there are financial strains at home because of job losses or a reduction in hours.

"We want to look at those interactions to see what are the factors that may increase the risk for psychological distress in the future, so we know how to intervene."

They also want to know what kind of support should be provided to both veterans and spouses, so that things don't take a turn for the worse, said Nazarov.

The study will be conducted in conjunction with researchers at the Centre of Excellence on PTSD in Ottawa. Nazarov said it will provide input into the design of the survey and will ensure that the results help those who need it the most.

"The real strength of the study is to have a very solid strategy for knowledge translation to make sure that these findings are actually ending up the desks of individuals who have the ability to control where policies go in terms of veteran and veteran-family support."

The Centre provides Canadian expertise related to the mental health of veterans, 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," said Dr. Patrick Smith, the Centre's CEO.

About the Author

Gary Ennett

Morning News Editor

Gary Ennett is a veteran editor and reporter. He’s been with CBC since the opening of the London bureau in 1998. His email address is gary.ennett@cbc.ca

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