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Mental health tool shows positive impact on Saskatchewan public safety personnel


Public safety personnel (PSP) including first responders in Saskatchewan say a new online tool created to address their mental health needs launched just months prior to the coronavirus pandemic is having a positive impact.

PSPNET, created at the University of Regina, provides access to online mental health services for nearly 200 first responders and other PSP in Saskatchewan and Quebec.

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“This has been a very challenging year for public safety personnel.  Not only are they dealing with the day-to-day work, which includes challenging and potentially traumatic situations, now they are also trying to manage those situations through a COVID-19 lens,” said Sgt. Joy Prince, RCMP’s “F” Division peer to peer coordinator.

“Having resources like PSPNET, in addition to the internal resources each PSP group has available, has been really important to help manage anxiety and depression in a year such as this one.”

Current, former and volunteer PSP all have access to PSPNET free of charge. PSP include border services personnel, correctional employees, firefighters, operational and intelligence personnel, paramedics, police, public safety communicators, search and rescue personnel and others.

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The tool combines online learning modules with weekly email or telephone support from a real therapist and also involves an eight-week program that offers free and confidential access to treatments such as depression, anxiety and other posttraumatic stress injuries (PTSI).

PSPNET is tailored specifically for PSP and is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week with optional therapist support Monday to Friday.

“Mental health challenges among PSP are common, problematic, and often under-treated, especially in PSP. Many PSP regularly experience potentially psychologically traumatic events every day at work,” said Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos, PSPNET principal investigator.

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“However, PSP also report significant stigma attached with accessing the support they need to keep helping all of us.

“Thanks to help from many PSP, we have tailored a program to meet the needs of PSP who have unique challenges because of the nature of their work.”

Hadjistavropoulos said the impact PSPNET has had on those using the tool has been very positive.

“Nearly 90 per cent of individuals who have taken the eight-week online therapy and PSPNET courses have reported increased confidence and ability to manage their symptoms,” Hadjistavropoulos said.

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“Nearly 90 per cent have also seen their symptoms of anxiety and depression reduced and maintained at non-clinical levels. The current results evidence PSPNET is making a major difference to PSP who have enrolled in the program.”

Statistics show:

  • More than 100 individuals took and finished the 8-week online course in 2020, most working in corrections, paramedicine, and policing;
  • Nearly 90 per cent of PSP who took the online PSP wellbeing course of treatment reported increased confidence and ability to manage their symptoms;
  • Nearly 90 per cent of participants said their symptoms of anxiety and depression were reduced and maintained at non-clinical levels, as a result of taking the program;
  • 96 per cent said they would refer a friend to the program;
  • 98 per cent said taking the course had been worth their time.

PSPNET is a pilot project supported through a $10 million investment by Public Safety Canada and is expected to be rolled out across the country at a later date.

Click to play video: Helping first responders and victims deal with trauma