COVID-19 Physical Distancing and Post-Traumatic Stress Injury: Utilization of Digital Health and Remote Mental Health Services for Military, Veterans, and Public Safety Personnel
Physical distancing arising from COVID‑19 has rapidly forced a paradigm shift toward remote mental health (MH) service delivery and a surge in the use of digital health (DH) (e.g., teletherapy/medicine, eHealth, and mHealth). Though limited in use mere weeks ago, DH has become essential for system access, assessment, and treatment. Legal, clinical, cultural, practical, and security considerations, however, remain unaddressed for delivering MH services to trauma-affected populations (TAPs). TAPs include public safety personnel (PSP; e.g., border services, communications officials, correctional workers, firefighters, paramedics, police, etc.), military members, and Veterans struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries (PTSIs) and other MH concerns that can be associated with or exacerbated by the pandemic. As TAPs may be particularly affected by changes from in-person to digital delivery of MH services, an understanding is needed of: (1) the clinical effectiveness of DH when addressing PTSIs; (2) perspectives of persons with lived experience, MH clinicians, senior leadership and policymakers; (3) the current context, needs, and considerations associated with DH uptake and use; and (4) realistic solutions for effectively delivering DH to TAPs. The HiMARC research team, with its established relationships with PSP, military, and Veteran communities in Alberta and beyond, is well-positioned to conduct a current state and needs analysis through a rapid review and key stakeholder engagements with the aim of synthesizing knowledge of needs, gaps, barriers, and facilitators for DH delivery of PTSI assessment and interventions. A co-designed, multi-phased knowledge mobilization and implementation plan coordinated with national efforts (e.g., CIPSRT and CIMVHR) will be created to deliver safe digital MH services at local, national, and international levels to PSP, military, Veteran, and civilian populations suffering from MH conditions including PTSIs.