The government is taking steps to show increased support for the mental health of first responders with a $1.48-million grant announced Feb. 2.
First responders have been under increased pressure in recent years, with COVID-19 and the opioid crisis driving the health-care system to a breaking point, said Labour Minister Tyler Shandro at Wednesday's announcement at the University of Alberta.
“First responders and emergency health-care workers are at greater risk for work-related mental-health issues, which is why funding is being provided to organizations and researchers to improve services," Shandro said.
From 2015 to 2019, there were 685 claims made to the Workers' Compensation Board for first responders stemming from post-traumatic stress injuries (PTSI), according to the province.
"First responders and emergency health-care workers have our backs and it’s appropriate that we have their backs by providing for their mental-health needs.”
The funds were divided amongst four non-profits and seven researchers through the Supporting Psychological Health in First Responders program.
A total of $711,769 is supporting research and programs aimed at improving the mental health of first responders in the Edmonton area, according to the province.
Three researchers from the U of A who received the grant used the money to develop a text message system that provides daily supportive therapeutic and educational messages.
This helped them to study the effectiveness of digital therapies to support first responders and aid in research to help clinicians assess and treat first responders at risk of complicated outcomes and improve worker recovery.
The grants support services for first responders and emergency personnel who have or are at risk for developing PTSIs, the province said.
Services include peer support and resilience training for workers and and caregivers to prevent severe outcomes.
Applied research to develop and evaluate the most effective treatment programs and services is also supported through these funds.
A second cycle of grant recipients will be announced at a later date.
The province said that among Alberta's first responders, there are more than 14,000 full-time, part-time, casual and volunteer firefighters, more than 7,500 police officers, at least 9,400 paramedics, 770 sheriffs and 1,500 corrections officers.