University of Regina paper reveals more help needed for first responders suffering from PTSD and other traumas

By Krista Baliko Posted: August 30, 2016 2:45 p.m.

University researcher says Canada’s first responders need more supports to deal with trauma.
University researcher says Canada’s first responders need more supports to deal with trauma. Photo - U of R Photography

A newly released paper from a University of Regina researcher has found that more needs to be done to help Canada’s first responders and other public safety personnel deal with the trauma often associated with their work.

Peer Support and Crisis-Focused Psychological Intervention Programs in Canadian First Responders: Blue Paper, was developed by Dr. Nick Carleton, professor of psychology at the University of Regina, in collaboration with members of the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) and supported by the Canadian Association of Police Governance (CAPG), the Paramedic Association of Canada (PAC) and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP).

The paper evaluates the peer support and psychological intervention programs already being offered to help those who often confront death, violence, and threats to their own lives at work, sometimes on a daily basis.

Nick Carleton Reporters
Dr. Nick Carleton answering reporters’ questions about his findings at a media scrum at the University. Photo - U of R Photography

“We found that there is a drastic need for more research assessing the impact of the programs that are currently offered to our police, paramedics, and fire and rescue personnel,” says Carleton. “Currently there is no real evidence available proving the effectiveness of any specific program. This is harmful to the well-being of those working to help and protect the Canadian public.”

While there are programs available to and used by first responders and other public safety personnel, Carleton says it is having programs that have been proven to work, and that are consistent across Canada that will provide the greatest benefits to our first responders and their families.

“The mental health of our people is at risk. This year alone, 26 Canadian first responders have taken their own lives. At the current rate this may be the worst year for suicides, surpassing the 40 first responders who died last year,” says Mario Harel, president of CACP. “This has to change.”

Rob Stephanson, president of CAPG, says the release of the Blue Paper is a first step in a long-term commitment to supporting Canadian first responders and other public safety personnel. “The pending Prevalence Survey is the next critical step.”

“Our next step is to release a national survey in September which will help my team gain a better understanding of the impact that work stress and symptoms have on first responders and their families,” says Carleton. “Our goal is to create supports for the mental health of all public safety personnel to the benefit of all Canadians.”

Pierre Poirer, executive director of the Paramedic Association of Canada, says he hopes the survey will help researchers better understand how the work of first responders impacts their lives, and move forward in identifying what is required to support the recognition, prevention, intervention and treatment of mental health concerns facing Canadian first responders.

“The work of Dr. Carleton and his team sets the stage for the creation of more uniform supports for the mental health of all our public safety personnel,” says Poirier. “The recommendations in the Blue Paper are necessary as the effects of daily traumas put our first responders at risk for psychological challenges, including post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and anger.”

The Blue Paper follows a National Roundtable held at the University in January, 2016 that addressed the need for developing a coordinated national action to address the prevalence of PTSD affecting public safety personnel across Canada.

To access the Blue Paper please visit here.

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