Professor to lead research team in RCMP study

By Costa Maragos Posted: November 17, 2015 7:00 a.m.

Dr. Nicholas Carleton believes research will result in “measurable improvements – first for the RCMP and ultimately for all Canadians.”
Dr. Nicholas Carleton believes research will result in “measurable improvements – first for the RCMP and ultimately for all Canadians.” Photo by Rae Graham - U of R Photography.

The University of Regina’s Dr. Nicholas Carleton will lead a multi-university, multi-expert group of researchers that will further examine the mental health of RCMP officers relating to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“It’s a national project and it will be highly visible,” says Carleton, associate professor of Psychology. “Current mental health care systems in this area of PTSD are reactive with help coming too long after the injury has been sustained. That health-care model is economically unsustainable and morally insufficient.”

Carleton’s views were published in the RCMP’s Gazette Magazine.  

He wrote that the project will translate into “actionable and measurable improvements – first for the RCMP, then for all first responders, and ultimately for all Canadians.”

Says Carleton: “As they have done so often before, the RCMP will again stand as a beacon of hope, this time for mental health, supported by our best and brightest researchers.”

PTSD describes a variety of symptoms, including intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviours, changes in mood, and increases in anxiety, which can follow exposure to one or more traumatic events.

The symptoms can dramatically affect a person’s ability to function.  People in certain occupations are at higher risk, including medical professionals, soldiers, police officers, paramedics, firefighters and correctional officers.

The Department of Psychology has played a critical role in the research and treatment of PTSD.

One of Carleton’s doctoral students, Samantha Horswill, recently completed an unprecedented study of post-traumatic stress and post-traumatic growth among RCMP officers.

Hundreds of officers in Saskatchewan responded to the U of R survey, with the resulting data offering a preliminary snapshot of current mental health and resilience in the force.

“But a snapshot is only a start,” says Carleton. “Research that begins before a cadet starts training and then follows that cadet through his or her career is urgently needed for researchers to truly understand critical elements for mental health.”

Carleton and his team hope to start the project in 2016.

Carleton’s research has been supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Recently, he shared his expertise at a House of Commons committee on health in Ottawa and is regularly asked to share his research findings for first responders groups across the country.