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Helping the helpers

Sociologist granted $187,966 to improve mental health support for first responders

By Chad Pelley

First responders are heroes not only for their actions, but also for enduring the physical and mental toll their jobs can take on them.

Fortunately, our governments have begun to address and help alleviate this toll.

Institutional corrections expert

Earlier this month, the province of Alberta announced $1.48 million in funding for researchers and organizations whose work supports the mental health of firefighters, police, paramedics, corrections officers and emergency health-care workers.

Dr. Rose Ricciardelli, a professor of sociology in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, was granted $187,966 as part of this funding.

Among other research interests, Dr. Ricciardelli is an expert in institutional corrections.

“The work will and is already informing a wellness strategy for correctional workers.” — Dr. Rose Ricciardelli

Her previous work in this field has been funded by Correctional Services Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institute of Health Research.

Correctional officers and police officers have a heightened risk of experiencing psychological and physical health issues as a result of their profession.

Dr. Ricciardelli’s latest source of funding will help her and her research team better understand how the contextual factors of correctional officer work, such as their physical and social environment, can affect their mental health and therefore their daily lives.

Dr. Rose Ricciardelli wears a black winter coat and stands in front of a tall brick wall with a penitentiary behind her.
Dr. Rose Ricciardelli in front of Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Though the study has begun in Alberta, it will branch out to include several Canadian provinces.

“The work will and is already informing a wellness strategy for correctional workers,” said Dr. Ricciardelli. “It is simply rewarding to see how invested the Provincial Correctional Services in Alberta is in improving the well-being of their employees.”

‘Further understand’

While having the backs of those who have our backs is simply the right thing to do, there is a financial incentive to support first responders in this way, too.

According to Mike Ellis, Alberta’s associate minister of Mental Health and Addictions, between 2015-2019, the total cost of compensation claims relating to post-traumatic stress disorder for first responders in Alberta was $104 million.

“This work is also important as it accounts for how COVID-19 is affecting correctional workers, in institutions, the community and administratively,” Dr. Ricciardelli said. “The project includes a COVID-19 operational scale for public safety personnel, which my team and I will be validating. This can help us further understand the impact of COVID-19 on first responders more broadly.”

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