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Before operational stress: Evaluating novel psychosocial interventions for public safety personnel (PSP) and their families

Keywords: BOS program, Families, Operational Stress, Public Safety Personnel

Summary

Public safety personnel (PSP) experience higher rates of operational stress. Operational stress can come from situations like traumatic events, threats to personal safety, and witnessing violence. The prevalence rates for posttraumatic stress injuries (PTSI)—from 8% to 32%—are not encouraging. PSP are not the only ones affected by these stressors. Children and spouses in PSP homes also experience the effects of operational stress. However, the mental health supports available to PSP are rarely available to their family members.

The current study hopes to improve both PSP and PSP-family mental health and well-being using a clinician-delivered Before Operational Stress (BOS) program. This study will also evaluate a new method of measuring participant program response via wearable technology.

Future directions

If successful, the program would prove another support method for PSP and PSP-family mental health and well-being.

Interview with the team

Are there any additional questions or challenges that your research might help to address?

In addition to developing a novel support program for PSP family members, our research will also be testing the effectiveness of the Before Operational Stress (BOS, McElheran, 2018) program, which is a proactive psychosocial intervention designed specifically for PSP members. While there is early support for the effectiveness of this program, more research is needed to test and confirm the psychosocial and physiological outcomes associated with participation in BOS. Therefore, our study will both test the effectiveness of the BOS program, as well as the effectiveness of adding a family component to BOS programming (i.e., BOS-Family).

What is exciting about your work for the PSP community? For example, how will your results help PSP frontline workers? PSP families? PSP leaders?

There are three main contributions of our research that we are excited about. First, our project will address the relative lack of research investigating the effectiveness of psychosocial programming to support PSP members. Findings from our study will create evidence-informed support for the BOS program that is designed to reduce the symptoms of OSI and create positive change for participating PSP members. Second, to our knowledge, our study is one of the first to develop family-based programming for PSP families. Given that families play such an important role in PSP mental health, and given that PSP families deserve to be mentally well in their own right, we believe our research will fill a significant gap in programming by supporting whole family PSP well-being. Finally, the training of mental health professionals needed to deliver the BOS and BOS-F programs will create a pool of registered clinicians (i.e., psychologists, social workers) trained and capable of delivering evidence-based programs to PSP and their families long after the completion of this project.

When do you expect to have results to share with the PSP community?

We are currently in the process of developing our BOS-F program. Our aim is to launch the pilot BOS-Family group this Fall (September, 2021) and complete preliminary analysis of the pilot group by Winter, 2021. We will also be presenting results of our PSP family online survey and focus groups at the Canadian Institutes for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR) Forum in October, 2021.

Where can PSP go to learn more about your study or, if applicable, to participate? For example, do you have a website?  

We welcome PSP and their families to visit our study website (https://www.buildingonstrengths.ca/) to learn more about our study and to reach out to us if you are interested in participating.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the PSP community about your research? 

We are continually humbled to be working on such a project on behalf of the thousands of Canadian PSP members and their families. PSP work is complex and challenging at the best of times, but the last year has increased the urgent need to support police, fire, and paramedic families as they serve their communities during the pandemic.

Researchers

Dr. Kelly Dean Schwartz is an Associate Professor in the School and Applied Child Psychology program, Werklund School of Education, at the University of Calgary. Dr. Schwartz has been engaged in the study of children, youth, and their families for over 20 years, most notably focusing on the development assets and family strengths contributing to healthy development and thriving.

Allan McLuckie is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary. His area of research includes mental health, parenting/family stress and family-based interventions. He also has extensive experience engaging in nationally funded knowledge-translation initiatives within research projects and pertaining to research-policy-practice translations for health/mental health initiatives.

Dr. Carly McMorris is an early-career investigator and Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary. As a Child Clinical Psychologist, she has extensive experience in assessing and treating children and adolescents with mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, and neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., autism spectrum disorder). Her expertise is in examining bio-psycho-social mechanisms for the development of mental health issues in youth with ASD.

Dr. Andrea Stelnicki is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Regina. Stelnicki is currently heading several projects evaluating programs for PSP, including the BOS program evaluation project and tracking the mental health of PSP peer supporters.

Dr. Linda Duffett-Leger is an Associate Professor Faculty of Nursing, University of Calgary and is a registered nurse and certified user experience designer, with expertise in using user-centred design approaches in the development of technologies to optimize health and educational outcomes. Her research focuses on using participatory design methods in the co-design of wearable technology solutions to solve real-world clinical problems.

Dr. Reed Ferber is a Professor in the Faculties of Kinesiology, Nursing, and Medicine at the University of Calgary. He is a clinician-scientist with post-doctoral training in biomedical engineering and has published97papers in his career, 25 in the last two years, and attracted nearly$5M in peer-reviewed research funding.

Dr. Megan McElheran is a Clinical Psychologist with WGM Psychological Services, a community-based psychology practice headquartered in Calgary, AB.  Dr. McElheran is creator of the Before Operational Stress (BOS) program and is National Clinical Director for WGM Psychology Ltd. Dr. McElheran began working with uniformed service personnel in 2004, at which time she had the opportunity to train extensively within the National Center for PTSD, a branch of the United States Veterans Affairs Administration.

Dr. Joanne Park completed her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the University of British Columbia. She completed her pre-doctoral residency in the Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychology Track at IWK Health in Halifax, where she received specialized training in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy with adolescents, and neuropsychological and psycho-educational assessments for children and adolescents.

Dr. Milena Spasojevic is a Clinical Psychologist serving as the Director of Clinical Operations of Eastern Canada in the Toronto, ON location of WGM Psychological Services. In this role, Spasojevic provides assessment and treatment to PSP and their families. Her doctoral research examined psychological variables in post-war Serbia, and she currently serves active duty military and veterans in her practice.

 

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