First Responder Curriculum Project – Mental Health Literacy & Resiliency-Building
BACKGROUND - The First Responder Mental Health Coalition (FRMHC)
In recent years, there has been a growing recognition among national policy makers and legislators that first responders’ unique experiences result in mental health needs distinct from many other occupational groups. In 2016, the Ministry of Labour (MOL) amended the Workplace Safety & Insurance Act, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (1997) with Bill 163, Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (2016). Under Bill-163, all employers of first responders are required to develop, sustain, and implement post-traumatic stress disorder prevention plans.
In support of these legislative changes, the MOL issued a call for proposals for the 2017-2018 Occupational Health, Safety, and Prevention Innovation Program (OHSPIP). First responder organizations and other supporting agencies in Windsor-Essex County (WEC), including the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU), formed a First Responder Mental Health Coalition (FRMHC) to prepare and submit a successful OHSPIP proposal.
In 2020, a five year sustainability plan was developed by the FRMHC for 2020-2025 to maintain the coalition beyond the OHSPIP grant and to build on the initiatives and programs established to date. In 2021, membership on the FRMHC includes all first responder organizations in WEC representing policing/law enforcement, fire and rescue, emergency medical services (EMS), and emergency healthcare, as well as several local partner agencies with a vested interest in promoting and supporting first responder mental health at the local level. These partner agencies include:
- Canadian Mental Health Association – Windsor-Essex County Branch (CMHA-WECB)
- Family Services Windsor-Essex (FSWE)
- Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU)
- Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW)
- St. Clair College
THE FIRST RESPONDER CURRICULUM PROJECT
As part of the 2017-2018 OHSPIP proposal, six project commitments were identified for the partnership to promote and support first responder mental health in WEC. The WECHU has taken a lead role in fulfilling the second project commitment outlined through the OHSPIP proposal:
“Work with representative(s) from St. Clair College to investigate the feasibility of developing a common mental health module to be included in all First Responder programs offered by the college (i.e., Pre-Service Firefighter Education and Training, Police Foundations, Paramedics)”.
The First Responder Curriculum Project was initiated by the WECHU in 2018 as a means to fulfill this project commitment. The purpose of the First Responder Curriculum Project is to develop a mental health literacy and resiliency-based curriculum module that can be embedded into local post-secondary programs for first responder students and allied health professionals, including firefighters, paramedics, police officers, nurses, and physicians.
Prior to the development of curricular content, the WECHU conducted a needs assessment to determine the key training needs and opportunities surrounding mental health literacy and resiliency-building for student and early-career first responders. The WECHU presented the final needs assessment results to the FRMHC on December 10th of 2020. Key informant interviews were conducted with 29 local representatives from the policing/law enforcement, fire and rescue, paramedic, emergency healthcare, and higher educational professions (n=28 interviews). The data was analyzed and key themes were identified that will drive the development and implementation of the curriculum module(s):
- Curriculum Topics – The main training needs and opportunities for student and early-career first responders as related to personal/professional mental health literacy and resiliency include:
- Resiliency-Building & Coping
- Stigma Reduction & Help-Seeking Efficacy
- Mental/Emotional Readiness for the Realities of the Role
- Mental Health & Mental Illness – Theoretical, Conceptual, & Clinical Concepts
- Strategic Uses of Social Supports
- Early Intervention & Proactivity
- Work-Life Balance
- Team Building
- Delivery Formats – Key themes supported the development of a hybrid online and in-person curriculum module with the embedment of lived experience from first responders in the profession (n=25).
- Implementation Methods – Key themes supported the early and continual implementation of an adaptable, inter-professional curriculum module into the following post-secondary and new recruit training programs for local students and early-career first responders:
- Pre-Service Firefighter Education & Training Program (St. Clair College)
- Paramedic Program (St. Clair College)
- Police Foundations Program (St. Clair College)
- Bachelor of Nursing Program (St. Clair College & University of Windsor)
- New recruit training programs at local first responder organizations in WEC, specifically volunteer recruit training programs at local fire departments
The WECHU is currently transitioning into the curriculum development and implementation phases of the project. In 2021, project leads at the WECHU will use the needs assessment findings to inform the development of educational and instructional components for the curriculum. The WECHU continues to consult and collaborate with local representatives on the FRMHC for knowledge, expertise, and support in solidifying key areas for curricular content, structural design, and student engagement in the curriculum module.
In collaboration with several interested members on the FRMHC, project leads at the WECHU plan to coordinate follow-up meeting(s) with the first responder higher educational group at St. Clair College early in 2021 to update their team on the recent initiatives completed for this project and to solidify partnered strategies for implementation. Future consultations with leadership at St. Clair College, as well as representatives on the FRMHC, will inform the processes and operations undertaken in 2021-2022 to pilot, implement, and evaluate the curriculum module following its initial development and review.