'Essential' support: Insight into post-traumatic stress injuries thanks to federal investment

Feb 15th, 2019

By Jeff Green

Dr. Rose Ricciardelli has received new funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for to advance studies into post-traumatic stress injuries.Photo by Rich Blenkinsopp
'Essential' support: Insight into post-traumatic stress injuries thanks to federal investment


That’s how Dr. Rose Ricciardelli sums up the news that not one, but seven, projects she’s associated with have secured new investments from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to help advance research on post-traumatic stress injuries (PTSI) in public safety personnel.

“The federal funding is essential,” the professor of sociology said during a recent conversation, beaming with pride.

CIHR recently released the results of its PTSI Catalyst Grant competition, which is providing 22 one-year grants of up to $150,000. The agency says the new money will serve as a springboard for researchers who are increasing our understanding of how to identify, treat and prevent PTSI among public safety personnel.

“We still know very little about work-related PTSD and occupational stress injuries among correctional officers.”— Dr. Rose Ricciardelli

Here at Memorial, Dr. Ricciardelli is principal investigator on two grants, while she’s involved with five other projects at institutions across the country.

Relevant research

Now more than ever, Dr. Ricciardelli says PTSI research focused on public safety personnel is needed.

“While we have seen increased public and scholarly attention paid to work-related post traumatic stress injuries among first responders – such as police, firefighters, paramedics and military – we still know very little about work-related PTSD and occupational stress injuries among correctional officers,” she told the Gazette.

According to Dr. Ricciardelli, recent research indicates that 54.6 per cent of correctional workers in Canada have reported symptoms of a mental disorder; 29.1 per cent have reported major depression; and 31.1 per cent have reported PTSD.

“Further research is needed, however, to explore how job experiences relate to stress injuries, as well as to identify possible protective and risk factors that may affect an officer’s likelihood of developing an occupational stress injury.”

Longitudinal study

One of Dr. Ricciardelli’s projects will provide “needed insight” into understanding the impact of prison work on the mental, physical and social health of correctional officers.

“The intention is to learn about officers’ perspective and health status from when they first enter the field for training and how these change overtime and/or are shaped by their work experience,” she explained.

The other Memorial-based project is an interdisciplinary and mixed method analysis of the Correctional Services Canada Academy’s 13-week Correctional Personnel Training program.

That project will create a toolbox for correctional officer mental health and occupational success by identifying ways to optimize the impact of training for public safety personnel.

“Seeing correctional service employees recognized . . .  is uplifting.”— Dr. Rose Ricciardelli

Both projects that Dr. Ricciardelli leads are tied to a longitudinal study of Correctional Services Canada correctional officers that begins at recruitment and continues through their experiences in the Correctional Training Program, until five years post-deployment to an institution, says Dr. Ricciardelli, who is co-ordinator of criminology and police studies at Memorial.

She’s also associate scientific director with the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment.

Making a difference

Dr. Ricciardelli says the new CIHR funding is critical to expanding her research.

“With the federal funding, we can further assess the impact of job experience on mental health indicators, as well as factors associated with vulnerability and resiliency.”

Dr. Ricciardelli says she and her colleague will be able to participate in training programs and use those experiences to inform evaluations of training efficacy.

The other projects she’s involved with are led by Dr. Dianne Groll, Queen’s University; Prof. R. Nicholas Carleton, University of Regina; Dr. David Malloy, University of Regina; and Dr. Michelle McCarron, Saskatchewan Health.

“These additional grants allow us to continue to analyze data and disseminate findings from the diverse mental health prevalence studies we have conducted, to understand ways to manage moral injury and to evaluate critical management and peer-support programs for public safety personnel,” Dr. Ricciardelli added.

She’s hopeful each of the projects can ultimately help make a difference.

“Seeing correctional service employees recognized in the federal funding as the invaluable first responders and public safety personnel who they are is uplifting.”

Jeff Green is a senior communications advisor with the Office of the Vice-President (Research). He can be reached at jeffg@mun.ca.