Building mental health programming for firefighters, police and paramedics, and their families.

"It's just been really nice to have that community around us. There's always people there who know what you're going through or are willing to listen to what you're going through. Because they might go through it at some point."

—  On the benefits of being a First Responder  — 

Our Purpose

Firefighters, police and paramedics, Public Safety Personal (PSP), experience heightened operational stressors, including: shift work, exposure to traumatic events, threats to personal safety, witnessing current or past accidents, homicides, assaults, and suicide. Prevalence rates for posttraumatic stress injuries and operational stress injuries range from 8% to 44% and suggest that at least 25,000 full-time Canadian PSP have experienced posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in their lifetime.

The estimates of trauma prevalence and its effects are magnified by the reality that many PSP are spouses and caregivers to family members who vicariously experience the effects of operational stress in the home. PSP are likely to turn to family members (especially spouses) as a first option when in need of support, and PSP who have support from their families are less likely to develop PTSD. Existing support systems for PSP generally neglect including family members. Thus, the current study will address this gap by designing and examining the effectiveness of an intervention program for PSP family members aimed to support and strengthen the mental health of the PSP member.

Phase 1

Research Questions

What are the job-related stressors experienced by families of first responders?

What supports do families value to cope with these stressors?


Paramedics &
Police Officers
& their Families

living in,


Ontario &



1) Understand the impact of workplace stress on first responders' family members​

2) Identify coping supports valued by first responders' family members​

3) Determine preferred modes of delivery that make interventions accessible to first responder family members

Focus Groups & Surveys

Phase 1: of the study aims to determine the psychosocial and physiological functioning of PSP and their family members; and investigate how their functioning can be improved by participating in specialized psychosocial interventions. During this phase of intervention design, we seek to determine the psychosocial needs and preferences of PSP family members to inform the content, structure, and mode of delivery for the BOS-Family psychosocial intervention


Focus                30


and youth

Recruited from provincial and national first responder organization and services.

The focus groups contribute to the design and subsequent delivery of the pilot program. 

Design and 

The main goal of the program is to develop family members understanding of the efforts of first responder occupational stress on the brain, emotional regulation and relational development.

Qualitative, thematic analysis of the focus group data will lead to the construction of an online (i.e., Qualtix) survey that will be delivered to approximately 300 first responders, spouse/partners and youth.

Online Survey for 300

Building on Strengths

Survey Content


The content of the survey will be informed by the results of the focus group by the theme areas of the pilot program

All participants in the focus groups and online survey will be provided with a small incentive (i.e. gift car) for their contributions


The work of this study will support first responders and their families to respond to psychosocial needs that accompany the occupational stress associated with first responder roles.

Findings will address the paucity of research into the unique psychosocial needs of first responder family members that other first responder organizations and researchs can draw upon

This research also has the potential to directly benefit the participants as the findings may generate insights into first responder advocacy and supports.

Feedback from participants will inform curriculum for a therapeutic intervention to support first responder family well-being

Data Analyses

SPSS & R Studio

Basic Descriptive Analyses

used to describe the psychological and physiological functioning of first responders and family members at baseline.

Multi-Level Modeling

Is used to examine the psychosocial and physiological functioning of first responders and how this functioning is influences by participation in pilot programming with and without an adjunct family component, relative to a wait-list control access three time intervals (pre-treatment, post-treatment and 1-month post-intervention follow-up).