Preventing and treating mental health injuries of all kinds in the first responders and other personnel who keep our society safe is the focus of Carleton’s innovative research

When Dr. Nicholas Carleton talks about mental health in what he terms “public safety personnel,” he goes beyond the common preconceptions of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in first responders — in many ways.

His ground-breaking research in this area has garnered the 6th annual Royal-Mach-Gaensslen Prize for Mental Health Research, awarded by the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation and the Royal’s Institute for Mental Health Research.

Our picture of first responders — usually police officers, firefighters, and paramedics — misses many people working in public safety who may face potentially traumatic situations in their jobs. These include border services, emergency managers, correctional officers, search-and-rescue personnel, and many other services. To broaden the picture, Carleton, a professor of psychology at the University of Regina, prefers to talk about “public safety personnel” or PSP.

“All PSP work hard to keep us safe, but in doing so they can be exposed to a tremendous number of potentially psychologically traumatic events.”

While there is growing awareness of PTSD among these critical frontline workers, there is less understanding that these personnel are at higher risk of other mental illnesses, such as major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Carleton’s research has shown that up to 44% of Canadian PSP have clinical signs of one of these illnesses. When these mental illnesses are linked to on-the-job stress, they are now considered “operational stress injuries.”

But Carleton is not content to just document these problems. He is also passionate about doing something to help PSP avoid or cope with these stress injuries. He is one of the founders of the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT), a network involving researchers and many employers of PSP. The network has a consortium with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and funding from Public Safety Canada. Carleton currently serves as scientific director of CIPSRT, which is bringing research findings to innovative programs to prevent and treat stress injuries.

Dr. Carleton will talk about his research during an online prize event 12 noon Eastern Standard Time, Thursday, Dec. 3. For more information and to register for the event, contact Sue Walton at the Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research.


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