University of Regina scholar honoured for work on mental health research and treatment

By Krista Baliko Posted: September 10, 2019 5:00 a.m.

Dr. R. Nicholas Carleton honoured by Royal Society of Canada for scholarship on mental health research and treatment for Canada’s public safety personnel.
Dr. R. Nicholas Carleton honoured by Royal Society of Canada for scholarship on mental health research and treatment for Canada’s public safety personnel. Photo: U of R Photography

Every day, from coast to coast to coast, Canada’s first responders and other public safety personnel are working to keep Canadians safe and secure. Their work often exposes them to sights, sounds, and situations that can be overwhelming. This is why post-traumatic stress disorder and other operational stress injuries disproportionally affect public safety personnel (PSP).

For the last 18 years, University of Regina psychology professor Dr. R. Nicholas Carleton’s career has focused on understanding relationships between trauma, pain, and mental health.

Now Carleton’s priority is to help Canada’s PSP by developing and integrating a comprehensive system of mental health research and treatment across the country. 

His research activities focus on the prevention of, and early intervention for mental health injuries among PSP. By creating and implementing innovative, technologically advanced, and potentially lifesaving mental health interventions, Carleton and his team are developing tools that could help protect and support the mental health of Canada’s more than 300,000 PSP. 

For this significant work, today Carleton has been named a Member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. 

"I am honoured and humbled to be included as a member of the Royal Society of Canada in the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists,” says Carleton. “I look forward to learning from the tremendous expertise and experience of my colleagues and hope to one day earn a Fellowship with this distinguished scientific community.” 

Dr. Vianne Timmons, University of Regina President and Vice-Chancellor, says that Carleton is an exceptional young researcher who has made tremendous advances in the prevention, assessment, and treatment of mental health issues, particularly for PSP. 

“Public safety personnel often confront death, violence, and threats to their own lives at work in service of protecting all Canadians. Dr. Carleton’s research is setting national and global precedents for PSP mental health research and treatment,” says Timmons. 

Carleton’s academic career has taken place almost exclusively at the University of Regina, where he concurrently received a Bachelor of Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology before completing both a master’s and doctoral degree in psychology. 

Carleton says his undergraduate honours thesis about the impact of 9/11 fuelled his desire to better understand responses to potentially traumatic events – from resilience, to disorders, to post-traumatic growth. 

“My efforts since that time have focused on factors that shape people’s vulnerability to mental health disorders,” explains Carleton, who is now an internationally recognized leader on the intolerance of uncertainty – a critical transdiagnostic risk factor for mental health. 

His passion and expertise have led Carleton to champion research on PSP and mental health in Canada. 

At a 2016 National Roundtable on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, collaboratively coordinated by Carleton, hosted by the University of Regina, and led by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale, Carleton proposed creating the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT). 

Under Carleton’s leadership, CIPSRT was established in 2017. “The Institute is now federally funded and the multi-university, interdisciplinary team of researchers are working with key stakeholders to identify the tools required to support the recognition, prevention, and treatment of mental health concerns facing PSP,” says Carleton, who is also the scientific director of CIPSRT. 

Carleton then led a massive effort to begin quantifying mental health injuries among PSP to gain new knowledge in the field. This innovative project engaged more than 9,000 PSP across the country and informed the creation of a free, anonymous, and online mental health self-screening tool that is now used around the world. 

In 2018, CIPSRT was awarded $20 million in research funding for the consortium Carleton helps lead. His efforts also led to an additional $10 million in funding to develop and deploy a creative new pilot for internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy (ICBT), collaboratively expanding upon the work of Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos, University of Regina psychology professor and executive director of the University’s Online Therapy Unit. The ICBT program, initially developed by Hadjistavropoulos for the general Canadian population, will be tailored to meet the needs of PSP in Canada. 

As principal or co-principal investigator, Carleton has been awarded more than $30 million in competitive provincial and federal grants and contracts, including the RCMP Longitudinal Study of Operational Stress Injuries. Designed as a nine-year study, this $8.9 million project involves him leading an international team of interdisciplinary researchers. Carleton says the results will support PSP mental health and will ultimately transform our understanding of mental health. 

In April this year, Carleton had the honour of being invited to speak at the launch of Public Safety Canada’s Supporting Canada’s Public Safety Personnel: An Action Plan on Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries with Minister Goodale and the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Canada’s Minister of Health.  

Dr. Kathleen McNutt, Interim Vice-President (Research), says the research Carleton is conducting at the University of Regina is groundbreaking and is already making a significant difference in the lives of PSP. 

“Dr. Carleton’s work evidences successful implementation of his ideas, resulting in widespread positive impacts. His creative use of technology and interdisciplinary teams offers a transformative opportunity for mental health for all Canadians,” says McNutt. 

The Royal Society of Canada, founded in 1882, recognizes scholarly, research, and artistic excellence, advises governments and organizations, and promotes a culture of knowledge and innovation in Canada and with other national academies around the world.

This story was updated on September 18, 2019.

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