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New research group to tackle mental, physical health in the public-safety sectors

Institute launched at St. John's summit


(Canadian OH&S News) — A new research institute based in Saskatchewan is developing a strategy to deal with health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among police, paramedics and other public-safety personnel in Canada.

The Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) — part of the Collaborative Centre for Justice and Safety at the University of Regina — was launched on July 25 at a national summit for public-safety stakeholders at Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L. The Institute will address both the mental and physical health of police officers, firefighters, paramedics and correctional staff.

“There are a lot of mental-health issues going on,” explained Renée S. MacPhee, Ph.D., an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. and one of the associate directors of CIPSRT. While PTSD has received a lot of media attention, she said, “we’re also seeing social anxiety, we’re seeing issues with depression, and from the physical side, we’re seeing injuries. They are higher than the general population.”

Dr. MacPhee stressed the importance of making sure that public-safety personnel are mentally and physically fit. “They’re looking after all of us; we have a responsibility to look after them as well.”

The three-day summit was sponsored by Wounded Warriors Canada (WWC), a national organization based in Whitby, Ont. that assists military veterans and first responders with operational stress injuries. The attendees included CIPSRT’s associate directors, scientific director and public-safety steering committee, as well as representatives from the public-safety sectors across the country.

“One of the things that we left St. John’s with,” said WWC executive director Scott Maxwell, “was a clear understanding about the significant need that exists to support our public-safety personnel members and the families that have been affected by occupational stress injuries.”

Among the objectives of the summit were to evaluate whether an entity like CIPSRT was necessary and to discuss how to determine research priorities, attract partnerships and coordinate funding, he added. “If you left feeling confident about one thing,” said Maxwell, “it was that everybody agreed that an institute like CIPSRT was needed.”

Although there are significant gaps in how Canada has been addressing the health of these workers, “there’s willingness among the stakeholders to work together for the benefit of the health and wellness of all public-safety personnel in Canada,” he said. “When the gap presents itself, you seek to fill it.

“I think Wounded Warriors Canada, in partnership with the likes of CIPSRT, and then the stakeholders, will have the ability to make significant strides and impact going forward.”

Dr. MacPhee said that CIPSRT’s strategy was still in the process of being developed, but that she and research colleagues had already conducted national surveys about health and wellness among paramedics, to learn what the main concerns were. “From a mental-health perspective, they’re suffering,” she said, noting that workers who receive physical injuries are more likely to suffer from mental-health issues and vice-versa.

“We have an assessment tool that will be available online very shortly through the CIPSRT site,” added Dr. MacPhee, “and we also are going to be releasing a number of publications in the next few months as well, to show the results that we’ve found and share that information.

“For us, it’s about making sure that we keep people involved and we keep people informed of what’s happening. That’s a big concern, a big priority for us.”

Maxwell said that WWC was “proud to sponsor this summit,” elaborating that the event had demonstrated how an organization like CIPSRC is necessary to guide other groups like WWC on how to invest in this area.

“We’re excited about the progress being made here.”