Veterans and the Media

  • Project Summary: This project aims to assess the tone and content of media coverage of Veterans’ mental health and suicide over a multi-year period; create interventions that can help educate and inform journalists about Veterans’ mental health and suicide issues; and examine change over time in coverage, particularly any change after rolling out the interventions.
  • Principal Investigators: Robert Whitley, Douglas Research Centre, McGill University
  • Co-Investigators: Fardous Hosseiny and Gabrielle Galley, Centre of Excellence on PTSD and Related Mental Health Conditions
  • Partner: Douglas Research Centre, McGill University
  • Advisory Group: Yes

Research indicates the media has historically tended to portray mental health issues negatively. While the issue is complex, it has been shown that responsible media coverage of suicide and mental health issues can facilitate help-seeking behaviour, public empathy, and social interventions.

To bridge this gap, the Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Related Mental Health Conditions, in collaboration with the Douglas 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 findings will be used to create interventions that can help raise awareness among journalists about the issues related to Veterans’ mental health and suicide.

Quick facts about Canada’s Veterans

  • The Government of Canada estimates that there are 700,000 Veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).1
    • ~5% served in World War II or the Korean War.2
    • 40,000+ served in Afghanistan.3
    • A large proportion served in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions across the world, including Somalia,4 Haiti,5 and the former Yugoslavia.6
  • The term “Veteran” includes individuals who served in the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Air Force.
  • All Veterans are exposed to dangerous activities and hazardous materials in basic training, military exercises, and standard duties (regardless of whether they serve in any conflict zones or peacekeeping missions).
  • More than 5,000 Veterans leave CAF, annually.7
  • In a 2013 survey, 24 % of assessed Veterans reported a mental illness (depression, anxiety, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).8
    • In another survey, conducted on the general population in a similar time period, around nine per cent of Canadians reported the same disorders.9
  • As a group, Veterans have high rates of physical disability and related chronic pain that began during their time in service.10 Attempts to manage this pain can sometimes lead to use of alcohol, cannabis, and other substances.
  • Veterans are at increased risk of suicide relative to their peers in the general population. 8
  • Female Veterans released from the Regular Forces are 1.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with one or more mental health conditions compared to male Veterans.8
  • After leaving the military, some Veterans have difficulty finding employment and secure housing. Many also struggle with issues of identity, lack social support,11 and feeling out of place in their civilian lives.
  • There are many organizations with a mandate to serve Veterans including Veterans Affairs Canada, the Royal Canadian Legion, Wounded Warriors Canada, the True Patriot Love Foundation, and VETS Canada.
References
  1. Government of Canada. Veterans – Job Bank. Retrieved from: Veterans – Job Bank
  2. Veterans Affairs Canada (2021). Facts and Figures – 1,.0 : Demographics. Veterans Affairs Canada. Retrieved from : 1.0 Demographics – Facts and Figures – Veterans Affairs Canada.
  3. Veterans Affairs Canada (2019). Canada Remembers: The Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan. Veterans Affairs Canada. Retrieved from: https://www.veterans.gc.ca/pdf/cr/pi-sheets/afghanistan-eng.pdf
  4. Veterans Affairs Canada (2017). Canada Remembers: The Canadian Armed Forces in Somalia. Veterans Affairs Canada. Retrieved from: https://www.veterans.gc.ca/pdf/cr/pi-sheets/somalia_e.pdf
  5. Veterans Affairs Canada (2019). Canada Remembers: The Canadian Armed Forces in Haiti. Veterans Affairs Canada. Retrieved from: https://www.veterans.gc.ca/pdf/cr/pi-sheets/haiti_e.pdf
  6. Veterans Affairs Canada (2019). Canada Remembers: The Canadian Armed Forces in The Balkans. Veterans Affairs Canada. Retrieved from: https://www.veterans.gc.ca/pdf/cr/pi-sheets/balkans_e.pdf
  7. Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence: Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs (2014). The transition to civilian life of veterans. Senate of Canada. Retrieved from: https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/Committee/412/secd/rep/rep08jun14-e.pdf
  8. Veterans Affairs Canada (2015). Canadian Armed Forces Veterans: Mental health findings from the 2013 Life After Service survey. Veterans Affairs Canada. Retrieved from: https://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2016/acc-vac/V32-260-2016-eng.pdf
  9. Pearson, C., Janz, T., & Ali, J. (2013). Mental and substance use disorders in Canada. Statistics Canada. Retrieved from: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2013001/article/11855-eng.pdf
  10. Chronic Pain Centre of Excellence for Canadian Veterans. Research — Improving care through evidence-based research. Retrieved from: https://www.veteranschronicpain.ca/research
  11. Ketcheson, F., King, L., & Richardson, J.D. (2018). Association between social support and mental health conditions in treatment-seeking Veterans and Canadian Armed Forces personnel. Journal of Military, Veteran, and Family Health, 4(1), 20-32.

Compelling Conversations Series – Veterans and the Media

As Canadians honoured Veterans in the week leading to Remembrance Day, the Centre of Excellence on PTSD hosted a virtual discussion on the impact of the media reporting on Veterans. “The Power of the Media: Impact on Veteran Stories” was the first Compelling Conversation – a regular series of topical public conversations about issues affecting the health and well-being of Canadian Veterans.

Attendees heard from the lived experiences and perspectives of a Veteran, Veteran Family Member, and a journalist in the lead-up to Remembrance Day.

Additional participants included 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 was moderated by Graham Richardson, Chief News Anchor for CTV News at Six and afternoon news anchor on Newstalk 580 CFRA.

This project is made possible through partnership with:

douglas_rc_new_300McGill University logoSPRING: Social Psychiatry Research Interest Group logo

Tackling Harmful Stereotypes Can Promote Veterans’ Mental Health

An opinion piece, “Tackling Harmful Stereotypes Can Promote Veterans’ Mental Health,” encourages Canadians to see beyond Hollywood-inspired stereotypes of Veterans, and outlines a new research project aimed at helping journalists report about Veterans in a holistic and responsible manner, moving beyond any stereotypes to chronicle the diversity of Veterans’ experiences.

The editorial was co-authored by Dr. Rob Whitley, professor and research scientist with McGill University, and Brian McKenna, retired Warrant Officer and the Veterans Advisor for the Centre of Excellence on PTSD and Related Mental Health Conditions.