Protecting those who Protect Us: An evaluation and synthesis of resources deployed to support firefighter mental health during COVID-19

Sinden, Kathryn E | $49,968

Ontario Lakehead University 2020 CIHR Operating Grant

Firefighting is a high-risk occupation that increases firefighters’ chances of exposure to transferable diseases as well as witnessing traumatic events. Witnessing traumatic events can increase firefighters’ chance of experiencing mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI), depression, difficulties with alcohol and chronic fatigue. It is known that in periods of heightened risk such as a pandemic, there are further impacts on individuals’ mental health. For example, following the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, front-line workers identified this event as traumatic and those who had higher risk for SARS exposure reported more PTSI symptoms than other workers. It would be expected that firefighters would have the same exposure to PTSI and associated mental health conditions during and following the COVID‑19 pandemic. Consequently, in addition to known factors that increase firefighters’ risk for mental health disorders, COVID‑19 has created a unique and challenging context where their risk for experiencing mental health conditions has increased. Our project will use an integrated knowledge translation (KT) approach where firefighters as knowledge users are embedded in the research process. As a team, we will appraise information about managing mental health from three primary sources: i.) peer-reviewed academic journals, ii.) online information specific to firefighter health and general platforms, and iii.) existing guidelines provided by firefighter associations. The results of the appraisal of our knowledge sources will be integrated in a way that will allow comparisons for similarities and differences to ensure the most representative synthesis of knowledge. Results of the synthesis will be communicated using various KT tools including lay summaries, fact sheets, info-graphics, and video vignettes that can be used to develop strategies to help firefighters better manage their mental health and prevent illness.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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