A pan-provincial network is looking to address mental health and treatment for safety workers and a Wilfrid Laurier University professor will lead their work on paramedics.

The Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT), hopes to better understand mental health disorders facing safety workers — including paramedics, police officers, firefighters  — and what supports they need.

Renée MacPhee, an associate professor in health sciences, kinesiology and physical education at Laurier, has worked alongside paramedics for 25 years and recently joined the network as an associate director.

"[The network] allows us primarily to connect the academics with the policy makers, the public safety leaders, as well as public safety members to ensure the information that we have on evidence based practice is readily available," MacPhee told CBC's The Morning Edition guest host, Andrew Coppolino.

Renée MacPhee

Renée MacPhee has been working with paramedics for 25 years and will lead the paramedic sector for the the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment. (Renée MacPhee)

National perspective

Having a national network would allow researchers at CIPSRT to have a Canada-wide perspective on the issue, said MacPhee.

Several universities across the country are overseeing different safety worker sections. The Justice Institute in B.C. will oversee the police sector, Queen's University will oversee the firefighter sector, Memorial University in Newfoundland will oversee the corrections sector and Wilfrid Laurier University will oversee paramedics.

"It allows the group if us to work across the country to interact with one another and to allows us the opportunity we might not otherwise have to see what's happening, geographical variations and so forth," said MacPhee.

Different challenges, different needs

Results from a recently released study show safety workers report different problems in different provinces.  

For example, firefighters in B.C. may have different needs than firefighters in other provinces, as a result of the staggering forest fires. The fentanyl crisis in B.C. also means their paramedics may have different needs than other paramedics in the country, said MacPhee.

For paramedics, the fentanyl crisis, shift work, a change in public expectations, increases in an unhealthier population and an aging society are just some of the unique challenges paramedics face in their job.

"They're a passionate group of individuals and they want to do what's bets for their patients," she said.

"Unfortunately, that sometimes has a negative impact on themselves."

Next steps

Understanding the results form the study and identifying what safety worker's needs are, are some of the next steps for CIPSRT, said MacPhee.

Finding additional resources and tools for the safety worker community is also on the agenda.

"They work in situations that the general public is not exposed to and we need to be acutely aware of that," she said. 

She adds that CIPSRT also wants to bring onboard dispatch personnel and Canada Border Services Agency officers as well.