Public safety personnel (PSP), such as Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff, police officers, firefighters, and corrections workers are dedicated to keeping their communities safe. The nature of their work puts them at heightened risk of acquiring Post-traumatic Stress Injuries (PTSIs)—mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that can arise as a result of exposure to traumatic experiences.
With a growing number of interventions aimed at addressing PTSIs available, public safety leaders can be left grappling with difficult choices about how best to support the mental health of their staff.
A new study being led by Dr. Michelle McCarron, a Research Scientist with the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s (SHA’s) Research Department in Regina, aims to arm public safety leaders with the knowledge necessary to wade through and interpret the research in order to make evidence-informed decisions about mental health support programming for PSP.
“Attempting to compare the evidence supporting various mental health programs can be daunting, particularly for someone without a research background. Sometimes the evidence is limited and it is challenging for non-researchers to wade through statistics and research jargon, trying to make sense of it all,” says McCarron.
Her project, titled “Research 101 for Public Safety Personnel: Course Development and Pilot Testing,” is one of 22 projects from across Canada funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) through its Post-traumatic Stress Injuries Among Public Safety Personnel Catalyst Grant competition. The project, which will take place over the span of one year, was awarded funding of $150,000.
Michelle is working alongside Dr. R. Nicholas Carleton and Dr. Alec Couros from the University of Regina. Dr. Greg Anderson from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and Dr. Rose Ricciardelli from Memorial University are collaborators. Together, they are creating an online course for public safety leaders to help them develop the “research literacy” skills necessary to be critical consumers of published research and to evaluate the quality of evidence for mental health interventions.
In order to ensure that the course will meet the needs of its intended audience, local public safety leaders such as Ken Luciak, Director of EMS South for the SHA, will be engaged throughout the development and pilot testing process.
“My team and I are excited to be involved with this project,” says Luciak. “With so many different training courses and programs being promoted, we want the tools that will help us to ensure that we are supporting the mental health of our staff in the best way possible.”
“We are pleased that Michelle’s work is being supported by CIHR,” says Dr. Elan Paluck, Director of Research, SHA. “It really speaks to the strengths of our local researchers that research in the SHA is able to compete on a national level.”
Results of this research are expected in February 2020. The team plans to use the results from this pilot study to further refine the course, with the long-term goal of making this training available to public safety leaders across Canada.