Canada has a proud military tradition. Our veterans served our country and protected our freedom – sacrificing their time, health, and sometimes their lives. In turn, we respect and support our veterans. This means honouring their service, providing them with the resources they need, and helping them transition to civilian life.
The Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families supports veterans and their families in a unique and important way.
Atlas brings together veterans, families, service providers, and research partners to create, gather, and share knowledge about veteran mental health. They also help integrate this information into care to improve treatment, support, and understanding.
“A better understanding of veteran mental health helps us to support our veterans, appreciate their sacrifices, and reduce the stigma and barriers they face in seeking help,” says Atlas President and CEO, Fardous Hosseiny. “By supporting our veterans, we are showing our gratitude and respect for their contributions.”
This Remembrance Day, we are sharing five things to know about the Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families.
1. Veterans and families are at the heart of Atlas.
No one understands the realities of military service and post-service life better than the people who are living it. Collaboration with veterans and families who have lived and living experience is an important part of how Atlas was built and how it has grown.
“I think how we engage with folks with lived experience and lived expertise is our secret sauce,” says Hosseiny. “We have people employed full time at Atlas who are tasked with ensuring that the perspective and the voices of lived experience are part of everything that we do.”
“The reason why we've been so successful is because we bring those people on board from the ground level.”
Individuals with lived expertise make up the core team as strategic advisors and are engaged as co-leads of research projects. There’s also the Atlas “cadre,” a group of about 50 volunteers with lived experience who provide advice and expertise when called upon.
Hosseiny says research about veterans cannot happen without veterans. Incorporating the perspectives and knowledge of people with lived expertise enhances the quality of the questions being asked, which directly affects research findings. What’s more, it fosters a richer, more collaborative research team, improves recruitment of research subjects, and even the eventual dissemination and implementation of research results.
2. While Atlas does not provide direct services, they support the mental health of veterans in many different ways.
Atlas does not offer services such as counseling, clinics, or crisis lines, rather, the organization spearheads research, identifies the best mental health treatment and approaches, advocates for veteran mental health, and provides specialized research-based training for healthcare providers. (One recent training session, for example, was regarding trauma-informed care, an approach that recognizes and responds to the effects of trauma on people's well-being and behaviour.)
Research is one of the main pillars of the organization. Research projects supported by Atlas are designed to help veterans but also further a collective understanding of their and their families’ mental health and well-being.
For example, the Athena Project is leading work to better understand the needs of women CAF and RCMP veterans, the fastest growing demographic of veterans in Canada.
“They have their own unique needs and we have to better understand what it is that they deal with during deployment and transition and when they retire and become veterans,” says Hosseiny. “In Canada we don’t have a good understanding of it.”
Atlas is also working with the University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health (IMHR) at The Royal to study the biology underpinning mental health conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and moral injury, and with colleagues in Australia to develop training focused on problematic anger, a common and understudied issue among veterans who have experienced combat or trauma.
3. Knowledge mobilization is “front and centre with research.”
Sharing mental health related information in an accessible and easy-to-understand way helps people learn about their own mental health and the mental health of others. It also reduces stigma and discrimination, promotes help-seeking, and improves well-being and recovery.
At Atlas, veterans are engaged to develop the research questions but they also have a hand in how the findings will be shared with the public. The final results of a research study may typically result in a paper, but the information could also be distilled in a webinar, a plain-language summary, an infographic, or even a video. Whatever is needed to get the word out.
“Knowledge mobilization is front and centre with research. You don't want to do all this great work and then have it sit on a shelf,” says Hosseiny. “So how do we ensure that we are funding and resourcing appropriately to mobilize that information? You have to invest time and effort into distilling that information into a format that makes the most sense for the audience.”
Cal Crocker, chair of the Atlas Institute board of directors, as well as chief operating officer and chief financial officer at The Royal, has been involved with Atlas since its origin in 2015. He’s watched it grow from an idea to what it is today, a bridge between research and practice so veterans and their families can get the best possible mental health care and supports.
He is especially proud of the organization’s work alongside veterans and their families. “That’s what Atlas was created for, not only to support the veterans and their families, but also to engage veterans and their families,” says Crocker.
“I’m proud of the Atlas Institute’s impact – locally, nationally, and globally.”
4. Atlas is connected to, but separate from, The Royal.
The Atlas Institute and The Royal are separate organizations with a strong partnership – they have overlapping mandates and share many points of connection including the University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR) and the Operational Stress Injury Clinic. Atlas has office space at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre as well as virtual offices across Canada.
5. You may know Atlas by a different name.
The Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families is formerly known as the Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Related Mental Health Conditions. The name changed in 2022 after a year of planning and community engagement and although the name is new, the mandate remains the same: “… to ensure CAF and RCMP veterans and families have access to safe, meaningful benefits, resources and supports that protect dignity and identity, create foundations for hope, connection, community and improve health and well-being.”
Why Atlas? Atlas is a powerful symbol that means different things to different people. Atlas was a Titan in Greek mythology who led a war against the Olympian gods and was condemned to hold up the heavens on his shoulders for eternity. In architecture, an atlas is a stone carving of a male figure used as a support column. It’s also a term for a book of maps, symbolizing, perhaps, our place in the world or being lost and found.
“Through this deep engagement with the veteran and family community, this name emerged and resonated with them – which was so important that they could see themselves in this organization that was created to support them. So the name itself and its evolution has been very meaningful as our organization has grown,” says Hosseiny.
For more information about the Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families, go to atlasveterans.ca.