Why was the study done?
Public safety personnel (PSP) are often exposed to dangerous and disturbing events on the job that have implications for long-term psychological trauma. For example, PSP are at an increased risk of developing posttraumatic stress injuries (PTSI) and dysfunction of their autonomic nervous system (ANS), a system that controls our automatic processes such as breathing, heartbeats and sending signals of stress to the brain. Previous literature has not addressed building resilience among PSP, nor ANS dysregulation that can lead to mental and physical health ailments such as burnout and fatigue. The current study aims to address these gaps.
What was done in the study?
The current study is ongoing and aims to investigate a web-based intervention, Autonomic Modulation Training, with the following objectives:
- To reduce self-reported symptoms of posttraumatic stress injuries among PSP;
- To strengthen ANS resilience and wellness capacity among PSP; and,
- To explore how sex and gender are related to baseline differences in psychological and biological PTSI symptoms and response to the intervention.
In order to obtain these objectives, the study will undergo two phases. During phase one, Autonomic Modulation Training will be developed. This phase will include an initial baseline survey of the PSP, weekly sessions with PSP that will integrate heart rate variability biofeedback training, and follow-up surveys. During phase two, the effectiveness of Autonomic Modulation Training will be tested. This will be measured by post-test self-report symptoms of PTSI and other wellness measures, health and resilience measurements via resting heart rate, heart-rate variability, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia, and whether sex and gender influence health outcomes.
What did we find out?
The current study is underway. Phase one has been completed, AMT is online, and the researchers are actively recruiting operational police officers in Canada. Phase two, data collection and analysis, is expected to be completed by the end of 2025.
Where do we go from here?
PSP are routinely involved in dangerous situations that can trigger long-term psychological and physical trauma. It is known that PSP are less likely to seek help for posttraumatic stress injuries and therefor, there is an urgent need to provide PSP with effective training to manage their symptoms. Autonomic Modulation Training is one intervention that PSP can complete in the comfort and privacy of their own home, and it uniquely addresses biological mechanisms that support resilience and wellness.
The original wording of the study was changed and condensed for the current research summary.
Keywords: Posttraumatic stress injuries; autonomic modulation training; resilience; wellness promotion; public safety personnel; police; heart rate variability; heart rate variability biofeedback; respiratory sinus arrhythmia.
Andersen, J. P., Di Nota, P. M., Alavi, N., Anderson, G., Bennell, C., McGregor, C., Ricciardelli, R., Scott, S. C., Shipley, P., & Vincent, M. L. (2023). A Biological Approach to Building Resilience and Wellness Capacity Among Police Exposed to Posttraumatic Stress Injuries: Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research Protocols, 12, e33492-e33492. https://doi.org/10.2196/33492.
Prepared by K. Harris