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Research Summaries

How have public safety personnel seeking help been affected by COVID-19?

Keywords: Internet-Delivered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (ICBT), Mental Disorders, Mental Health, PSPNET

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Why was the study done?

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating mental health problems worldwide as people adjust to limited personal interaction and the cancellation of numerous activities. Public safety personnel (PSP), who are at the front line of this pandemic, already display higher levels of mental health issues than the general public.

PSPNET is a free, internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy program designed specifically for PSP. Since the program launched just before COVID-19 arrived in Canada, the PSPNET team took the opportunity to explore the frequency and intensity of COVID-19 concerns in PSP seeking mental health help through the program.

What was done in the study?

PSP that enroll in PSPNET must complete a set of screening questionnaires and a phone interview with a therapist. Therapists began to inquire about the impact of COVID-19 when it first reached the province of Saskatchewan. As cases increased, a separate COVID-19 screening questionnaire was added (April 13, 2020), which looked at the fears and impact of COVID-19. In total, 59 Saskatchewan PSP contributed to the study.

What did we find out?

  • On average, participants were primarily white female, married without children, and lived in communities with less than 100,000 people.
  • The top two fears reported on the questionnaire were: 1) a family member getting COVID-19 (37%); and 2) the PSP giving someone else COVID-19 (22%).
  • Few participants reported severe fears related to COVID-19
  • When asked about the impacts of COVID-19, most reported a concern about maintaining distance at work (56%). However, the majority said they didn’t feel socially isolated by COVID-19 (63%), and fear of COVID-19 was not interfering with enjoyment in their life (59%).
  • The majority of participants that completed the phone interview indicated that COVID-19 was negatively impacting them to some extent. There were two major ways they were affected: 1) emotionally, and 2) by logistical complications.
  • Participants reported experiencing a range of negative emotions related to concerns about family becoming sick, fear of contracting the virus, isolation, or boredom.
  • Logistical complications included concerns about increased call volumes, the healthcare system’s inability to manage COVID-19 impact, management not taking the pandemic seriously, and not being provided adequate PPE.
  • 40% of those who completed a phone interview reported no negative impacts from COVID.

Where do we go from here?

Most of the PSP who were seeking help from PSPNET reported that COVID-19 had negatively impacted their lives emotionally and logistically, but few reported severe impacts. These findings can inform programs and policies designed to help PSP cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. There are limitations to this study. It had a small sample from a province that has been less affected by the pandemic than other regions. It also relied on a more rural sample; the findings might be different in more urban areas. However, this study does support the idea that PSP may be impacted differently by COVID-19.


The original wording of the study was changed and condensed for the current research summary.

Original Study

McCall, H., Beahm, J., Landry, C., Huang, Z., Carleton, R.N., & Hadjistavropoulos, H. (2020). How have public safety personnel seeking digital mental healthcare been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? An exploratory mixed methods study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.


Summary by Kossick, E. Edited & reviewed by Barootes, B. & McCall, H.

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