DR. ROBERT (BOB) CHRISMAS Guest Editor
Public Safety Personnel: Current Challenges and Opportunities
DR. R. NICHOLAS CARLETON
R.D.Psych., CIPSRT Scientific Director
Prevalence of posttraumatic stress injuries (PTSI) among public safety personnel (PSP) appears dramatically higher than for the general population. The difference appears linked to organizational stressors and occupational stressors. Peer-reviewed studies indicate variable results from many existing programs designed to help, but much new research is underway. For example, an Internet-delivered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy program led by Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos (U. of Regina) is delivering positive results in several provinces, while the RCMP is conducting research into building proactive solutions. There is also a national Public Safety Steering Committee for PTSI engaging with the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (a knowledge hub), Public Safety Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and multiple other government bodies and organizations. Across all mental health programs, additional research is needed.
Moral Injury & Policing
DR. LORRAINE SMITH-MACDONALD
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Alberta
The concept of Moral Injury (MI) was first broached in relation to Vietnam veterans in the late 1980s and has since been linked to post-traumatic stress and other disorders. Renewed research since 2009 suggests that non-traumatic events can be contributing factors; for example, feelings of guilt over not having been able to save a life. The research also illustrates that MI can negatively impact health and well-being differently than PTSD. There are increasing calls for MI to be formally classified as a mental health diagnosis. Aside from more research into MI, the author emphasizes the importance of informing police officers about the risks.
Fostering “Shared Social Identity” among Public Safety Personnel to Decrease the
Adverse Psychological Outcomes of COVID-19
DR. ALEXANDRA HEBER, LCol (Retd), MD, FRCPC, CCPE
DR. KIM RITCHIE, RN
EMILY SULLO, MMA Sc
DR. LINNA TAM-SETO, O.T.Reg. (Ont.)
DR. MARGARET MCKINNON, CPsych
The higher incidence of psychological and physiological troubles among public service personnel (PSP) compared to most other citizens is due to higher occupational risks in those fields. Within this context, research suggests that having a positive shared social identity with colleagues can mitigate adverse mental health outcomes of exposure to traumatic events. This was also found to be true during the COVID-19 pandemic, when disagreements about vaccinations and masking tore at the fabric of shared identity and associated notions of collectively serving the public. The authors are calling for more research into why and how a positive shared identity works and can be applied within the PSP workplace and in clinical interventions.
Mental Health Needs of PSP Families
MA, RP, CTTS, Étudiante DCP avec Yorkville University
By extension, the partners and families of Public Safety Personnel (PSP) are impacted by the experiences to which their loved one is exposed in the line of duty. The trauma-intervention needs of PSP partners and other family members is an emerging area of research. Exploring what we currently know about how to best support this group of individuals, including the unique counselling needs given by the occupational risks facing PSP, the author emphasizes the need to fill associated knowledge gaps. She is calling for a holistic approach that would make counselling and therapeutic support systematically available and accessible to the life partner, children and other direct members of a PSP’s family as well as more research into how to help PSP learn how to ‘leave problems at the office’.
Guarding Against Burnout in the Emergency Services: A Firefighter’s Perspective
BA (Psych.), Serving Firefighter, Burlington (ON)
A Canadian firefighter, the author describes burnout as something that occurs over time, like the impact of acid slowly eroding metal. He describes it as a unique work-related condition that can happen in any profession—the point where one becomes physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausted and feels one’s efforts are not being recognized. Pointing out that firefighters and other PSPs such as police and paramedics face a higher risk because of the nature of the work and the limited right of refusal, the author calls on firefighters/PSP and their respective leaders to recognize three specific signs of burnout.
BIO SECTION: DISCOVER our contributing authors
SPECIAL ISSUE ON PEER SUPPORT FOR AND BY PUBLIC SAFETY PERSONNEL
GUEST EDITOR STAFF SERGEANT DR. ROBERT (BOB) CHRISMAS
The CIPHER Mandate: Addressing the Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19 on Canada’s Public Safety Personnel, Healthcare Professionals, Their Families and Caregivers
DR. ALEXANDRA HEBER
LCol (Retd), MD, FRCPC, CCPE (1,2),Executive Director of CIPHER & Chief of Psychiatry,
Veterans Affairs Canada
AMBER SCHICK, MA, BHJ (1)
Affiliations: (1) Canadian Institute for Pandemic Health Education and Response;
(2) Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University
The need for coordinated efforts in Canada to identify and support occupational groups facing a high risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) culminated in 2018 with the Federal Framework on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Act. Aiming to ensure timely access to mental health and well-being supports for public safety personnel (PSP), military personnel, and healthcare professionals (HCPs), this Act mandates the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to lead a coordinated, national approach for improved tracking of the incidence rate and associated socio-economic costs of PTSD, and the establishment of guidelines on best treatment practices and education to help these frontline workers when their mental health is compromised. Now, federal government funding is supporting nine applied research projects and the Canadian Institute for Pandemic Health Education and Response (CIPHER), a knowledge hub, to address the mental health impacts of COVID-19 on Canadian PSP, HCPs, and their families.
Recommendations for Mental Health Screening in Public Safety Personnel Populations
DR. MITCH COLP
R. Psych. (AB), University of Calgary
Public safety personnel (PSP) place significant barriers around their mental health needs and the screening for psychological symptoms. Defensive attitudes and cultural variables among PSP often manifest in the withholding of psychological concerns or ignoring the physical signs of mental illness. Unfortunately, the chance of developing mental health issues related to the occupational risks is much higher for PSP than the general population. While this makes it extremely important for PSP to continually evaluate their mental health, there is a trend for PSP to under-report symptoms due to the potential impact on job security. The author concludes with potential recommendations for change.
Gender Appears Not to Be a Dividing Factor in Mental Health Training: Initial Evaluations of Mental Health Training among Diverse Public Safety Personnel
DR. JOLAN NISBET
CIPSRT Post-Doctoral Fellow
The author was surprised when public safety personnel (PSP) turned down her offer of gender-specific focus groups related to mental health training. Noting the mixed-gender focus groups that followed were completely unhindered by any old boys’ club baggage, the author applauds progress being made in reducing gendered division. She encourages PSP to reflect on how to continue this trend and questions whether members who self-identify as transgender, two-spirit or non-binary would have felt as comfortable sharing their experiences.
Suitability Characteristics for Members of Peer Support Teams for Public Safety Personnel (PSP)
DR. PHILIP DODGSON
The work culture of public safety personnel has historically been characterized by a dominant ethos related to the need to self-sustain given grievous circumstances. At the same time, Public Safety Personnel (PSP) today increasingly face a unique set of stressors—including routine witnessing of our worst societal problems (e.g., domestic and community violence, poverty, industrial accidents, etc.) and resulting exposure to traumatic incidents. In spite of a lack of empirical research into appropriate supports, an evidence-based consensus derived from PSP involvement in agency-driven support suggests that peer support is key to change.
PeerOnCall: App-Based Peer Support for Canadian Public Safety Personnel
DR. SANDRA MOLL
DR. R. NICHOLAS CARLETON, R.D.Psych. (SK)
DR. STEPHEN CZARNUCH
DR. JOY MACDERMID, Clin. Epidemiol., PT
DR. RENÉE MACPHEE
DR. ROSE RICCIARDELLI
DR. KATHRYN SINDEN, RKin
PeerOnCall is a new app platform designed by and for Canadian Public Safety Personnel to provide information, mental health resources and private, secure links for peer support. Now in its second testing phase, McMaster University, the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and researchers at Laurier, Western and Memorial University are working together to explore how to optimize implementation and impact of the app in a range of Public Safety organizations across Canada. oncallapp.ca
My Perspective in Black and Blue
Canada’s first Black Chief of Police – City of Winnipeg (Retd)
& First Inspector General of Policing – Province of Ontario (Retd)
Devon Clunis had never seen a Black officer in Winnipeg when he joined the police service in 1987. He quickly realized the emotional trauma of policing knows no colour barriers; everyone has a breaking point. In 1998, Clunis suffered what is now known as PTSD. Given the complete lack of peer support, he received help from his pastor. Wanting to help colleagues experiencing similar mental health issues, Clunis became a police chaplain—a role that resembles what we now call a peer supporter. As Police Chief, starting in 2012, Clunis added an additional wellness officer and strengthened the role of the police psychologist. Now retired, Clunis points out that public faith in policing was broken by the failure of police leadership internationally to immediately denounce the brutality of George Floyd’s murder in 2020. In rebuilding this trust, Clunis notes, police must courageously speak the truth.
Hitting the Streets: Starting Out in Emergency Services
Bearing the brunt of society’s failures, frontline police routinely witness human suffering and heartbreak. Organizational factors also play a role: there’s no time for a formal lunch break let alone debriefing. Pack your stress up; you can’t bring it home to family. People become police officers specifically to help and defend society’s most vulnerable, but those arrested, as well as bystanders, can be hateful; this negative regard also takes a toll. Brandi Chrismas suggests that awareness and help tools such as mindfulness, self-compassion, and peer support are key. Remaining largely informal, however, peer support can leave recruits yearning achingly for the same composure and fearlessness they see in the more experienced officers.
Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice (CJCCJ) / Revue canadienne de criminologie et de justice pénale.
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Opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the Association’s views, but are included to encourage reflection and action on the criminal justice system throughout Canada.