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Life at sea

Sociologist named Marine Institute research chair for mariner mental health and wellness

By Moira Baird

Dr. Rosemary Ricciardelli has been named Research Chair in Safety, Security and Wellness at the Marine Institute’s School of Maritime Studies.

The chair was created to lead research in mental health, wellness and industry-focused gender issues in the marine transportation, emergency response and public safety sectors.

“The Marine Institute has great people, great research opportunities, and collaborative research space,” said Dr. Ricciardelli. “I’m really enjoying my experiences here and feel my research can make a greater impact.”

Mental health awareness

Dr. Ricciardelli, a professor of sociology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, who was cross-appointed last year to the School of Maritime Studies, started her new research post earlier this month.

“The well-being of those who keep us safe and secure should never be compromised,” she said. “I employ a whole person approach to study public safety personnel. As a mental and social health researcher, I look at the mental and social health of public safety personnel broadly defined and I’ll be expanding that to mariners.

“At the Marine Institute (MI), we’re hoping to embed mental health awareness and training into the very fabric of mariner training as well and to expand MI’s certification capacities to include other public safety groups, if there’s an appetite for it,” she continued.

Public safety personnel include firefighters, police officers, paramedics, correctional workers, coast guard, search and rescue, intelligence officers and border security.

Capt. Fred Anstey
Capt. Fred Anstey
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Expanding programs

Capt. Fred Anstey, head of the School of Maritime Studies, says Dr. Ricciardelli has vast research experience in public safety and emergency response, both areas in which the school plans to expand its education and research programs.

“Dr. Ricciardelli will help the school grow our research program in co-ordination with Dr. Heather Carnahan, Lockheed Martin Industrial Research Chair in Simulation and Learning. Dr. Ricciardelli and her research team will also help us develop a new stream of master’s and doctoral programs in public safety and emergency response.”

Trained correctional officer

Dr. Ricciardelli holds a BA(Hons.) and master’s in sociology from Western University and a doctorate in sociology from McMaster University.

She joined Memorial in 2013 and has received two President’s Awards — one for Outstanding Research, the other for Public Engagement Partnerships.

A founding member of the Canadian Institute of Public Safety Research and Treatment, she is also vice-chair of its Academic, Researcher and Clinician Network Advisory Council.

“I’m just a trusted outsider with a wee bit of insider perspective at times.” — Dr. Rosemary Ricciardelli

As well, she is a trained correctional officer with Correctional Services Canada. She completed the training program to better understand the process, the officers and their experiences.

“The ethnographic component is really important to me. Ethnography provides a whole new, nuanced understanding of what people are experiencing. I’m still an outsider, I’m just a trusted outsider with a wee bit of insider perspective at times.”

Heading to sea

She’s taking a similar immersive approach in her mariner research.

To get first-hand experience, she’s doing training and certification courses at the Offshore Safety and Survival Centre in preparation for heading to sea for three weeks in the near future.

She is also looking for mariners to participate in an interview-based study on work, life at sea and other stressors that may affect their well-being.

“It’s exploratory to see what mariners’ experiences are and, as I learn the nuances, this will lead to further studies,” she said. “I’ll examine all the experiences on board ship, the risk, the realities, the diverse crew. Then, there’s the collateral consequences of leaving your family behind while at sea. I will take a holistic approach and look at all dimensions of life and how they’re impacted by the occupation.”

Applied results

Dr. Ricciardelli says she likes to the see the results of her research put into practice.

She and her Memorial colleague, Dr. Alan Hall, co-authored a 2018 position paper commissioned by the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees calling for presumptive legislation for work-related stress injuries.

In 2019 provincial legislation came into effect that presumes workers develop diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of a traumatic event or multiple events at work.

She also wrote a position paper to help get correctional officers recognized as first responders and covered under the federal memorial grant.

The Memorial Grant Program for First Responders provides a one-time, lump sum of up to $300,000 for families of first responders who die as a result of their duties. The first responder definition was expanded to include correctional officers, parole officers and probation officers.

“It was announced December of 2020 — the best Christmas!”

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