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Funded research on PTSI Will it help?


April 11, 2019
By Tina Saryeddine

In February 2019, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) awarded 22 research grants totalling $2,955,782 for researchers to study issues related to post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) in first responders and other public safety personnel. These funds flow from the 2017 federal budget announcement of $30 million to address mental health in all public safety personnel through a variety of means.

The 22 grants represent projects either referencing public safety personnel in general or specific to any of fire, police, paramedic or correctional services. The projects cover everything from the use of yoga to screening tools, to testing peer support, critical incidence and resilience training programs, to looking at suicide rates, studying mental health of firefighters in Fort McMurray and comparing different types of care.

The projects also include some studies that are intended to develop and compare treatments. A few of the studies are intended to mine data and develop courses in managing moral injury and research methods for public safety personnel.

For the researchers, it may be the best of times, but it may also be the worst of times. Never before has such funding been earmarked specifically to help public safety personnel. Never before has the pressure to make a difference been higher given the severity of mental health issues in our sector, motivating the research funding in the first place.  

Research comes in many shapes and sizes, but not all research is created equal. Sometimes it is simply curiosity-driven, but ends up having huge impact. Sometimes it is purpose-driven, but has very limited impact. How can you tell what research will succeed? That’s a tough one. Consider the number of accidental discoveries from penicillin to crash-proof glass.

Other research is so successful it makes its way into top scholarly journals and international conferences. However, it can then take literally decades for the innovations and advancements to reach the front line. Why does this happen? CIHR thoughtfully discusses what is known as the “17-year problem” in getting research to practice, on its website. Some reasons are systemic, but there are also necessary efforts or “hacks” that help to ensure that the “lag time” between research and practice can be shortened.  

In a special type of research called “clinical research,” the process of research is tied to the actual delivery of care. A great example from the recently funded projects is a study in which the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) was invited to work with the researchers on their proposal.

Dr. Janine Olthuis from the University of New Brunswick and her team, consisting of Dr. Patrick McGrath (IWK Health Centre, N.S.), Canadian Institute of Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) leads Dr. Nicholas Carleton and Dr. Heidi Cramm, and others, have a vision to develop a distance intervention for PTSI that may be able to obviate barriers to care.  

They approached CAFC staff, the board, and our national advisory council to discuss their idea and help put together their proposal. They are building member feedback into the development of the research proposal, the methods, and the ways the research would be conducted and disseminated. Importantly, through this study design, 25 individuals will receive care in a highly monitored fashion.

There are likely other research projects that are set up to both engage and, through the research project, expedite access to safe care for individuals consenting to partake in the research. To learn more, CAFC has invited all the researchers to make submissions to present at Fire Rescue Canada which will take place in Calgary, Alta., Sept. 13 to 16. CIHR and CIPSRT will also be developing additional methods to make sure this happens.

What will be the impact of the CIHR-CIPSRT consortium funding? It’s too early to tell. However, one thing is certain. The more frequently and authentically researchers are communicating with the field, the better the research questions, the better the methods, the better the outcomes and the better the field will be able to learn about, use and advance the results.

Early indications show a lot of promise in this federal investment. However, in the commonly held healthcare tradition of “nothing about us, without us,” the front line has to be meaningfully engaged. Talking after the funding is distributed and the research is finished is too late. Now’s the time to work together. We believe it can happen.


Tina Saryeddine, PhD, MHA, CHE, is the executive director of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. For more information, contact info@cafc.ca, call 1-800-775-5189, or visit www.cafc.ca.