UNB researcher gets federal funding to treat firefighters with post-traumatic stress injuries

A psychology researcher at the University of New Brunswick has received federal funding for one year for a project aimed at improving firefighters’ access to care for trauma.

Janine Olthuis is one of 20 researchers from across Canada to get the cash injection from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

All of the projects relate to post-traumatic stress injuries among first responders, with Olthius focusing on firefighters.

Global News

The project looks at developing evidence-based intervention programs that can be delivered by video link, accessible at home and around work schedules.

“It would be hopefully developed in a sustainable way that you could call up and say, ‘I have this going on right now. I’m looking for some intervention,’ and then you would be matched with a health professional and that person would connect with you,” explains Olthuis.

One of the participants in the study is Fredericton fire inspector Jeff Mack who knows all too well the impact that tough calls can have on a first responder.

In 2005, he was involved in a fire where he and his partner both almost lost their lives. He turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism before reaching out for professional help in 2007. He’s been an advocate for post-traumatic stress injuries ever since.

“I wanted to speak about it so that stigma could be broken and you know, hopefully, firefighters, first responders, could start coming out and identifying and asking for the help that they need,” explains Mack.

Research suggests 2.5 per cent of Canadians will experience some kind of post-traumatic stress in their lives.

When it comes to firefighters, that number increases substantially to 13 per cent.

The grants, awarded for 22 projects, are designed to support research focused on understanding, identifying, mitigating and/or preventing PTSI and adverse mental-health outcomes among public-safety occupations.

“The investments we are highlighting today underscore the Government of Canada’s commitment to providing evidence-based solutions to improve the quality of life of the brave men and women who risk their own safety and well-being to keep Canadians safe,” said Canada’s Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor.

The program could be tailored to fit firefighting culture, approved by those on the front-lines and then possibly adjusted for police and paramedics.

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