Research Projects - SPRING

Ongoing Research Projects

We are currently engaged in numerous major research projects, and have recently completed several others. We also have a number of smaller more focused projects in progress. Below is a list of our major research projects. More information on these projects, or on our secondary projects, is available from the team.

Mental Illness: Language and Content in News Media Coverage

Funder: Mental Health Commission of Canada. PI: Whitley, R. Funded 2010-2018

In this study, we are collating and examining media stories about mental illness in major Canadian newspapers and television programs. We are examining stories from 2005-2018 to discern whether stories are (i) positive or negative; (ii) stigmatizing; (iii) recovery oriented; or (iv) linked to violence, criminality or danger. This methodology allows us to track changes over time in media representations of mental illness. So far, we have coded over 25 000 articles, monitoring trends from 2005 to the present. We found that articles about mental illness per se tended to be more recovery-oriented and well-informed. In contrast, articles about individuals with a mental illness (especially men) tended to be more negative. Our most recent analysis indicates a significant increase in positive coverage in recent years. It also suggests that Canadian journalists are adhering to recently released guidelines for best practice in mental health reporting. We have published papers describing the results of the study in Social Psychiatry Psychiatric Epidemiology and the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. We are currently analyzing tone and content of social media in relation to mental illness.

Stopping the Stigma: Creating and Assessing an Anti-Stigma and Pro-Recovery Educational Intervention Using Participatory Video with People with Mental Illness

Funder: Canadian Institutes of Health Research. PI: Whitley, R. Funded: 2014-2018

In this study, we trained groups of people with severe mental illness in three different cities (Toronto, Halifax and Montreal) to make documentary videos. This included training in analytical thinking, scripting, interview skills, camera work and editing. These groups proceeded to make a series of locally-grounded documentary videos about the struggles faced by people with mental illness. The groups had complete editorial control over themes and content. We have organized numerous screenings of the resultant videos to target audiences including (i) students and teachers, (ii) general public and (iii) health service personnel. This includes screenings at Ryerson University, Dalhousie University, Memorial University, the Jewish General Hospital and McGill University. The videos have also been uploaded to YouTube. Additional screenings are currently planned for this upcoming year. Video-impact on audiences is currently being measured using qualitative and quantitative methods to assess whether the videos reduced stigma and improved understandings of mental illness. We are also measuring the impact of involvement on participants’ recovery using in-depth qualitative interviews.

The Seduction Community: A Critical Ethnography

Funder: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. PI: Whitley, R. Funded: 2016-2018.

In this study, we are conducting in-depth ethnographic research to better understand the behaviors, beliefs and attitudes of young men belonging to the rapidly-growing ‘seduction community’. Specific objectives include documenting and understanding (i) the reasons that young Canadian men join the seduction community; (ii) their attitudes and behaviours towards women and society as a whole; and (iii) the impact that community involvement has on them, especially on factors such as subjective well-being, mental health and social inclusion. So far, we have interviewed over 30 men, and also conducted lengthy participant observation. The potential contribution to advancing knowledge and the wider societal benefit is clear. The study will help resolve questions as to whether (i) young men join the seduction community due to social anxiety and social skills deficits; (ii) the seduction community fosters positive or negative attitudes towards women or society as a whole; and (iii) some level of self-help and skill acquisition is actually occurring and having a helpful effect on well-being, mental health and social inclusion in young men. This project will shed much light on this overlooked and understudied community.

Recently Completed Projects

Disrupting Divorce: Participatory Video in Action

Funder: Movember Foundation. PI: Whitley, R. Funded: 2016-2017.

In this project, we aimed to raise awareness of the challenges, struggles and endurance of low-income single-fathers. As such, we partnered with a community organization (Pères Séparés inc) providing services to this clientele. Together, we conducted a participatory video project where we gathered together a workgroup of low-income French-Canadian single-fathers living in the East End of Montreal, many of whom struggled with depression and suicidal ideation after their separation. The group was trained in analytical thinking, scripting, interview skills, camera work and editing. After four months, the group successfully produced a hard-hitting documentary about their struggles and endurance ( The video was uploaded to YouTube, and we organized screenings to audiences across Canada, including Montreal, Toronto and Calgary, where it was very well-received. The team hopes that the video will be used by organizations such as mental health and social service providers, community groups and educational establishments to sensitive audiences to struggles faced by this group. Feedback suggests that the process empowered the fathers, and successfully raised awareness in audiences.

Barriers and Facilitators to Recovery from Severe Mental Illness: a Socio-Cultural Analysis

Funder: Canadian Institutes of Health Research. PI: Whitley, R. Funded: 2011-2015.

In this study, we interviewed over 60 people with severe mental illness living in Montreal, accompanied by in-depth participant observation, to better understand recovery from a first-person perspective. The participants came from diverse ethno-cultural backgrounds and we were specifically interested in comparing and contrasting ethno-cultural variations in (i) definitions of recovery; (ii) barriers to recovery; and (iii) facilitators of recovery. Most participants defined recovery as a step-by-step journey, involving the gradual reestablishment of a routine life in the community. Participants across the sample reported that stigma and financial strain were major barriers to recovery. They also reported that employment, social support and positive physical health (e.g. good sleep, healthy diet and regular exercise) were key facilitators. Participants from Caribbean and African backgrounds tended to report that God and religion were key facilitators of recovery, but this was not a prominent theme among Euro-Canadians. We have published papers describing the results from this study in journals including the Community Mental Health Journal, the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, and the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

Building Knowledge and Capacity in the Rehabilitation and Recovery of African Americans Suffering from Severe Mental Illness: The Dartmouth-Howard Collaboration

Funder: U.S. National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. PI: Whitley, R. Funded: 2008-2014.

This was a five-year center grant devoted to exploring recovery among African-Americans, developed in partnership with the Howard University Department of Psychiatry. The grant funded a series of research projects, as well as considerable training activities for clinicians to better understand recovery. This included five annual one-week summer schools attended by roughly 30 people per year on the topic of recovery. Key findings from the research projects include elucidating the importance of safe and secure housing for people in recovery. This housing not only provides important physical shelter, it also acts as a springboard for further steps on the recovery journey, including employment and the development of social relations. We also found that neighbourhood variables, such as crime and disorganization, can negatively impact recovery, inasmuch as people are afraid to venture from the housing unit and further integrate into the community in such locales. Religion and spirituality acted as a key facilitator for recovery amongst African Americans, with participants attributing their recovery to their relationship with God. We have published papers describing study results in journals including Psychiatric Services, Social Science and Medicine and Transcultural Psychiatry.