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Innovative Study on the Tone and Content of Veteran Media Coverage on Mental Health

OTTAWA, ON – The Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Related Mental Health Conditions, in collaboration with the Douglas Hospital Research Centre, has launched a new study of how suicide and mental health are portrayed in the media, with a focus on Canadian Veterans.

“The study is conducted in close consultation with Veterans, Veteran Families, journalists, journalism schools, national media associations, and media outlets,” says Dr. Patrick Smith, CEO and Founder of the Centre of Excellence on PTSD. “Our hope is this work will gain much-needed attention in order to reduce stigma surrounding Veteran mental health and set a new standard of excellence in Canadian journalism.”

This unique action-research study will assess the tone and content of stories surrounding Veterans’ mental health and suicide in the Canadian media.  The findings will be used to create interventions that can help raise awareness among journalists about the issues related to Veterans’ mental health and suicide. The development of these interventions will be informed by an advisory group of journalists, Veterans, and Veteran Family Members.

Dr. Rob Whitley, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University and Research Scientist, Douglas Research Centre, says this project takes a truly collaborative approach. “We all have a role to play in creating a climate of inclusion and integration for our military veterans,” he says. “This includes journalists and the media, a vital part of civil society that can counter Hollywood stereotypes through nuanced and balanced perspectives”.

Evidence indicates military Veterans are a group with higher rates of suicide. Male Veterans overall are at a 1.4 times higher risk of dying by suicide compared to the general Canadian male population. Female Veterans have a risk that is 1.9 times higher compared to the general female Canadian population.

In 2005, research indicated that the media tended to portray mental health issues negatively. The issue is complex, but it has been shown that responsible media coverage of suicide and related mental health issues can create a climate that facilitates help-seeking behaviour, public empathy, and social interventions.

The goal of the research is to study the tone and content of Veteran media coverage, and ultimately to help journalists and communicators powerfully and positively report on Veteran mental health. This is timely as we approach the peak of Veteran media coverage on Remembrance Day.

To further support responsible reporting surrounding Remembrance Day, on Wednesday, November 4, 2020 at 1 p.m. EST, the Centre of Excellence on PTSD will host a virtual event as part of their Compelling Conversations Series titled “The Power of the Media: Impact on Veteran Stories.” Attendees can expect to learn from the lived experiences and perspectives of a Veteran, Veteran family member, and a journalist as Remembrance Day approaches. Additional participants will include Dr. Patrick Smith, CEO and Founder of the Centre of Excellence on PTSD, and Dr. Rob Whitley, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University and Research Scientist, Douglas Research Centre. The virtual panel will be moderated by Graham Richardson, Chief News Anchor for CTV News at Six and afternoon news anchor on Newstalk 580 CFRA.