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. And it may be particularly distressing for those vulnerable to mental illness."
Dr. Don Richardson, Lawson Associate Scientist and Director of the MacDonald Franklin Operational Stress Injury (OSI) Research Centre
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."