Blue Line

Features Holding the Line
Addressing the unique needs of public safety personnel and their families

August 23, 2023  By Michelle Vincent

Photo: Halfpoint / Adobe Stock

As first responders, we are all aware of the sobering statistics on our vulnerability towards serious mental health issues and operational stress injuries. From depression and anxiety to post-traumatic stress symptoms/injuries—at times comorbid with addiction—the likelihood that we will screen positive for one of these is 45 per cent, according to Carleton et al., (2022).

There are researchers conducting incredibly complex and conceptualized research with our public safety personnel (PSP) that is focused on the unique stressors our group experiences that impact our ability to process the challenging occupational stressors we face. Research is key in creating the inception of mental health resources that truly address the experience of mental health issues.

In a past article, I shared findings from Dr. Nick Carleton’s research (2021) on the organizational stressors identified as having an impact on mental health, such as inconsistent leadership styles, short staffing, workplace culture experienced as not being supportive, public scrutiny and shift work. While research starts the process of informing a potential solution, conceptualizing research into potentially effective resources is what our desired outcome is.

There are many resources available for PSP and yet accessibility, suitability and the overall objective/fit of each resource are important considerations prior to committing. Programming that explores organizational dynamics in the PSP world, as well as an understanding of the neurological experience, provides a comprehensive opportunity to discover tools that might support healthy processing and reframing of one’s own thoughts and those relationships around us.


The focus has been and continues to be on the traumatic incidents that we as PSP experience when we come for mental health resources. Shifting our focus and supporting a naturally evolving topic of discussion and training on the organizational impact on our mental health is a great opportunity to change things up. With that in mind, we also want to ensure that we recognize the great work so many of our leaders in the first responder community tirelessly commit to as they support the moving parameters of community needs/requests, budgetary constraints and the overall wellbeing of the organizational team. While leaders within organizations continue their work, it’s imperative that the resources they all require and need to be well reduce organizational liability, and contribute to their ability to be present and available with minimal barriers.

There are many resources available for PSP and yet accessibility, suitability and the overall objective/fit of each resource are important considerations prior to committing.

In my columns, have highlighted several organizations that have and continue to contribute to the provision of these necessary mental health resources. What if there was an organization with a mission to support mental wellness with first responders, PSP, military and their families exclusively with a unique combination of evidence-based modalities, creating programming that feels safe and inclusive? An organization with a variety of partnerships and facilitators in occupationally/organizationally/culturally-specific programs such as Edmonton Police Service’s Reintegration After Critical Incident and Long-Term Leave program, the Writers Collective of Canada program, or the Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson) and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. Having a team comprised of a clinical supervising psychologist, a military peer, various peers from PSP, a PSP-focused well-published researcher, a financial specialist and many more specialized contributors might ensure our PSP/military and their families receive a professional approach to mental wellness programming. The reason this is crucial to the understanding of the foundation of such an organization, as well as its operations, is the trust, safety and clarity of the true needs this population has for mental wellness resources to be most effective.

Acquiring a property that has three homes on an agricultural oasis would allow for each space to offer a unique opportunity for mental wellness. The first building could deliver various residential programming, including the challenges of addiction with mental wellness. The second might be a safe space for members experiencing a critical incident/urgent need/crisis where light options of programming would be available, respecting organizational policy and procedure when necessary. The third could be for families of our PSP/military for programming specific to their needs, as well as a retreat when they need that safe space of a home away from home. Imagine if all these opportunities, when available, were offered free of charge and exclusive to our PSP/military and their families. This could change the way mental wellness is delivered for this population.

Working together, learning from and working with aligned resources, to provide the best evidence-based experiences for our members in a natural, tranquil environment is a unique way and opportunity to change up how we deliver wellness resources to our PSP/military and their families. Ensuring program spots are available would likely depend on the generous donations of those around us, supportive fundraisers and eventually, perhaps, a tri-funded model supported by our organizational associations/unions, private/corporate funding and government grants. Let’s come together and change how we deliver mental wellness programming for PSP.

Michelle Vincent PhD/MACP is a retired officer and the founder of The Haven, Ontario’s first non-profit, inpatient treatment centre exclusive to first responders and uniform personnel. Contact her at

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