Rob Whitley

Mental Health and Society

Rob Whitley

E-3108, Perry Pavilion

6875 Boulevard LaSalle
Montréal, QC
H4H 1R3

(514) 761-6131 x4339

Lab images - click to enlarge: 
Whitley lab

Researcher, Douglas Research Centre
Principal InvestigatorSocial Psychiatry Research and Interest Group (SPRING), Douglas Research Centre
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University 
Research Scholar, Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé (FRQS), Senior

Social psychiatry research

People with mental illnesses suffer from multiple inequities. These include (i) decreased educational achievement; (ii) high-levels of unemployment and financial strain; (iii) truncated social networks; (iv) poor physical health and reduced longevity; (v) increased risk of suicide and substance abuse; (vi) high-levels of stigma and discrimination; and (vii) low rates of service engagement and treatment adherence.
The Social Psychiatry Research and Interest Group is devoted to research, action and knowledge translation that can reduce these inequities and improve the lives of people with mental illnesses. In pursuance of this task, much of our work revolves around two related concepts, recovery and stigma. The overall mission of the Social Psychiatry Research and Interest Group is to conduct research and take action that ultimately promotes recovery and diminishes stigma. Our work aims to help all people who suffer from mental illness, but in recent years much of our work has focused on two groups who under-utilize mental health services: immigrants and men. 


We have conducted numerous externally funded studies examining recovery from severe mental illness, as well as barriers and facilitators thereof. Our research suggests that recovery from severe mental illness is much more than traditional clinical notions of symptom remission. Indeed this realization propels much of our work. People with a severe mental illness generally consider recovery as a process rather than an outcome, involving the progressive regaining of a meaningful life in the community. Our research suggests that factors such as employment, secure housing, rewarding social relations, spirituality and contributing to society are considered key facilitators of recovery. Contrariwise, barriers to recovery include unemployment, financial strain, fear of crime, inaccessible mental health services and stigma. We continue to assess interventions, policies and practices that attempt to promote recovery. In this endeavour, we have advised hospitals, mental health service providers, social services and community organizations regarding the implementation of recovery-oriented policies and practices. We have also trained and educated clinicians about the importance of taking a recovery-promoting stance. We continue to push for a recovery orientation in health and human services. As such, we are always available to discuss recovery with clinicians, community organizations or health care providers.


Much of our research indicates that stigma is the single most important barrier to recovery for people with mental illness. It directly reduces their quality of life and can play a significant role in discrimination against them. Stigma is often based on misperceptions, myths and inaccurate stereotypes. Our research suggests that this can negatively affect self-esteem, service engagement, employment opportunities and social relationships. Our research also suggests that stigma can be reduced through various methods, including educating the public and key stakeholders, as well as empowering people with mental illness. In collaboration with the Mental Health Commission of Canada, we have worked with media outlets and journalism schools to try and improve coverage of mental illness in the Canadian media. This project is ongoing and we are pleased to report a significant improvement in coverage in recent years. We are also currently conducting a CIHR funded participatory video project where people with severe mental illness are producing short documentaries about their lives. These documentaries are currently being shown in anti-stigma workshops aimed at students, teachers and health care providers, and we are measuring if they are successful in reducing stigma. In short, we are committed to better understanding and ultimately reducing the insidious effect of stigma on people with severe mental illness. Again, we are always available to discuss stigma-reduction with health care providers and other interested organizations, including employers, media outlets and schools. 

Whitley R, Wang J W, Fleury M-J, Liu A, & Caron J (2017) Mental health status, health care utilization and service satisfaction among immigrants in Montreal: an epidemiological study. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 62(8), 570-579

Whitley R & Wang J W (2017) Good News? A longitudinal analysis of newspaper portrayals of mental illness in Canada 2005-2015. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 62(4), 278-285.

Whitley R & Wang J W (2017) Television Coverage of Mental Illness in Canada: 2013-2015. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 52(2), 241-244.

Whitley R (2016) Ethno-Racial Variation in Recovery from Severe Mental Illness: A Qualitative Comparison. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 61(6): 340-347.

Whitley R (2015) Global Mental Health: Concepts, Conflicts and Controversies. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences 24(4): 285-291.

Whitley R, Palmer V & Gunn J (2015) Recovery from Severe Mental Illness. Canadian Medical Association Journal 187(13): 951-2.

Whitley R & Campbell R D (2014) Stigma, agency and recovery amongst people with severe mental illness. Social Science & Medicine 107: 1-8.

Drake R E & Whitley R (2014) Recovery and Severe Mental Illness: Description and Analysis. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 59(5): 236-242.

Slade M, Amering M, Farkas M… Whitley R (2014) Uses and abuses of recovery: implementing recovery-oriented practices in mental health systems. World Psychiatry 13(1): 12-20.

Whitley R (2012) Religious competence as cultural competence. Transcultural Psychiatry 49: 245-60.

Whitley R (2012) ‘Thank you God’: Religion and recovery from dual diagnosis among low-income African Americans. Transcultural Psychiatry 49: 87-104.

Whitley R & Siantz E (2012) Recovery Centers for People with a Mental Illness: an Emerging Best Practice? Psychiatric Services 63: 10-12.

Whitley R, Strickler D & Drake R E (2012) Recovery Centers for People with Severe Mental Illness: A Survey of Programs. Community Mental Health Journal 48: 547-556.

Whitley R (2011) Social defeat or social resistance? Reaction to fear of crime and violence among people with severe mental illness living in urban 'recovery communities'. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 35: 519-35.

Whitley R & Drake R (2010) Recovery: a dimensional approach. Psychiatric Services 61: 1248-50.

Rob Whitley is the Principal Investigator of the Social Psychiatry Research and Interest Group (SPRING) at the Douglas Hospital Research Center. He is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University. His three main research interests are recovery, stigma and men’s mental health. His research shows the importance of factors such as gainful employment, secure housing, religion/ spirituality and rewarding social connections in enhancing recovery from severe mental illness. It also shows the devastating impact of stigma.

He has published over 100 papers in social psychiatry, and his work has been funded by CIHR, FRQ-S, NIDRR and the MRC (U.K). He is currently the recipient of an FRS-Q Junior 2 Research Scholar Award. Current projects include (i) the creation and evaluation of awareness-raising videos for use in anti-stigma workshops run by people with mental illness; (ii) a longitudinal analysis of the tone and content of media coverage of mental illness in Canada; (iii) an ethnography of young men participating in the ‘seduction community’. He hopes one day to live in a world where people with mental illness can fulfill their potential and enjoy their full rights, free of fear and stigma.

FRQ-S Chercheur-Boursier Junior 2 (2016-2019)
CIHR New Investigator Award (2011-2016)
FRSQ Chercheur-Boursier Junior 1 (2011-2015)
Leverhulme Trust Post-Doctoral Fellowship (2003-2005)
U.K. Medical Research Council Ph.D. Scholarship (1999-2002)

PhD Students

  • William Affleck
  • Marie-Eve Boucher
  • Ria Dwi Agustina
  • Ashley Lemieux


Masters Students

  • Melanie Levy


Research Staff

  • Victoria Carmichael
  • Jacky Zhou
  • Sacha Fernandez
  • Robby Reis
  • Derreck Roemer
  • Stephanie Young

Recent news

Our collective trauma: How will the pandemic change us?
New research shows Canada’s men facing mental health issues
Alarming numbers around men's mental health indicate need for national response
Destigmatize cannabis use for mental health
On n'a pas le luxe de se priver d'espaces verts
Worrying statistics on men's mental health signal it's time for an inquiry
Tackling harmful stereotypes can promote veterans' mental health
The pain of loneliness and the pleasure of solitude
Loneliness growing during pandemic
Is the media getting better at covering suicide?
Addressing “failure to launch” should be a societal priority
Traditional therapy may not be the answer for men with depression; talk may be alienating for some, says one expert
Swimming out of the darkness: How cold-water swimming helps with mental health
The Darker Side of Casual Sex
"Recovery colleges as a mental health innovation" with Rob Whitley (Wiley Online Library) en anglais
Congratulations to our students and researchers - Recent prize and funding announcements
"Media coverage of mental illness: a comparison of citizen journalism vs. professional journalism portrayals" with Victoria Carmichael and Rob Whitley (Journal of Mental Health) en anglais 
«Bell Let's Talk: what is a healthy mind» with Robert Whitley (CTV Montreal)
Opinion : More can be done to reduce suicide rates in Quebec with Robert Whitley (Montreal Gazette)
This year, let's ensure students' mental health isn't their top worry with Robert Whitley (Huffington Post Canada)
Why labelling President Trump as mentally ill is Wrong with Robert Whitley (Psychology Today)
La dépression touche tous les âges avec la Dre Johanne Renaud (
Opinion: Tackling prejudices about people with mental illness avec Rob Whitley (The Montreal Gazette) en anglais
Les hommes de 45 à 64 ans sont les plus vulnérables au suicide avec Robert Whitley (La Presse)
Congratulations to new FRQS award and grant recipients for 2016-2017

Recent publications