Study aims to help veterans get mental health services they need

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A study being launched at the Lawson Health Research Institute is exploring the barriers some veterans may face seeking mental health care for a type of trauma known as moral injury.

“It’s known as sort of that psychological distress that follow events where people either commit, witness or fail to prevent acts that transgress or conflict with deeply held moral standards,” explains Dr. Anthony Nazarov, a post-doctoral associate at Lawson.

Researchers say evidence shows moral injury s on the rise among deployed members of the Canadian Armed Forces, which increases the risk of PTSD and depression.

Dr. Don Richardson, Lawson associate scientist, says, “One of the best treatments that are available is talking about the events. So it’s clear we want individuals to come forward and ask for help and treatment if they need it.”

However, when it comes to moral injury, Richardson says veterans are less likely to reach out for help, and that’s part of what the study will look at.

“Are there are issues with regards to veterans that have concerns regarding confidentiality, and does that affect their ability to come forward to talk about events that are more on the shame-guilt base.”

The study will take approx two years to complete and will be done in two stages. The first stage will be to recruit around 200 veterans for an online assessment and then the second stage will include 50-60 veterans who will be studied more in-depth.

The ultimate goal will be to break down the barriers for veterans who need mental health care.

“If we understand the mechanisms behind their beliefs we may be able to understand what else we can do to make individuals feel safe when they approach mental health services,” says Nazarov. “Then we can have an open and honest conversation with their conditions and about what’s on their minds.”

The study is being funded by Veterans Affairs Canada and the St. Joseph's Health Care Foundation.

More information about the study, including participation information can be found at: www.lawsonresearch.ca