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Research Summaries

Reintegration after an operational stress injury

Keywords: Peer Support, Reintegration

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Why was the study done?

The demands of public safety personnel (PSP) work combined with the stress and unpredictability of calls can contribute to operational stress injuries (OSI). OSIs are a broad range of mental health disorders and conditions that can affect the daily life of a PSP and make them unable to work.

In 2009, the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) developed a reintegration program with the primary goal of helping officers return to work following a critical incident, illness, or injury. The program uses peer reintegration facilitators to lead the returning officers through the unique stressors they may experience when returning to work. After finding success with their program, EPS began offering a five-day training for members interested in becoming reintegration facilitators and for other organizations looking to start their own reintegration program.

The goal of the current study was to:

  1. explore the experiences and knowledge gained by  PSP attendees of the reintegration training;
  2. describe the perceived needs and barriers for workplace reintegration programs;
  3. understand what might be required for future peer-led reintegration programs.

What was done in the study?

The researchers performed a thematic analysis of the data provided from pre, post, and daily questionnaires during the five-day training session. They also analyzed responses from a “World Café” focus group done at the end of training. In total, 57 Alberta-based PSP participated in the training.

What did we find out?

Four main themes emerged related to required components of a reintegration program.

  1. Skills and personality traits of ideal reintegration facilitators (RF): the participants indicated that RF’s would require strong internal and external values. Internal values needed to provide compassionate care included being authentic, honest, patient, humble, intelligent, and kind-hearted. External values required to do the difficult work of reintegration included confidence, credibility, courage, willingness to learn, and trustworthiness.

The consensus was that “Not anyone would do,” and the RF position should be filled based on personal virtues not seniority or management preference.

  1. Reintegration needs to be holistic and comprehensive: reintegration needs to be team-orientated, including peer supporters, physicians, occupational therapists, psychologists, reintegration facilitators, and Workers Compensation Boards.

Participants agreed that standardized psychoeducation and demystification of mental health issues and effects were needed, including focusing on how mental health issues can bephysically manifested.

  1. Necessary features of a reintegration program: Participants felt essential factors included a customized approach for each PSP, oversight from a mental health professional balanced by peer support, and a trauma-informed approach to reintegration.
  2. Programs must consider the culture of PSP organizations: even with improvements in mental health stigma, participants indicated that many legitimate and perceived challenges remain to mental health help-seeking in PSP, such as lack of privacy and career implications.

Participants identified other barriers such as rural vs. remote work location, infrastructure available for a reintegration program, finding the right people to be RFs and releasing them from other duties, and loss of support for the program over time and personnel change.

Participants also identified facilitators such as large campaigns to increase knowledge of PSP-specific mental health challenges, greater access to mental health resources, greater support from Occupational Health & Safety (OH& S) and WCB, and organizations prioritizing mental health.

Where do we go from here?

Participants in this study believed that reintegration programs are a way forward to improve outcomes for PSP returning to work. Based on the feedback from PSP, good reintegration facilitators and strict confidentiality are essential elements to program success. Given the possible value of reintegration programs, this study highlights the need for standardized training to evaluate outcomes with continued flexibility to provide assistance based on individual PSP needs.

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


Original Study

Jones, C., Bright, K., Smith-Macdonald, L., Pike, AD, & Bremault-Phillips, S. (2021). Peers supporting reintegration after occupational stress injuries: A qualitative analysis of a workplace reintegration facilitator training program developed by municipal police for public safety. The Police Journal: Theory, Practice and Principles, SE, 1-18.

Summary prepared by Kossick, E. Edited and reviewed by Barootes, B. & Jones, C.

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