McMaster University researchers are receiving more than $4.5 million in federal funding to support projects related to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among health-care workers related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Margaret McKinnon, professor of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences, is receiving $2.96 million for the Healthcare Salute project, which aims to develop evidence-based resources for health-care personnel. Her project will reach 75,000 health-care workers at 708 Canadian public hospitals.

Sandra Moll, associate professor of the School of Rehabilitation Science, is receiving $1.56 million to further develop, implement and evaluate the McMaster Beyond Silence smartphone app.

The app is designed to promote early intervention and peer support for frontline health-care workers to address the mental health impact of the pandemic. The project is expected to reach 10,000 to 50,000 healthcare workers across Canada.

Moll is also leading a multi-sector OnCall implementation team in partnership with the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) at the University of Regina. The CIPSRT team is receiving $3.71 million to advance peer support for public safety personnel.

The OnCall research will advance access to peer support for up to 30,000 public safety communicators, correctional workers, firefighters and paramedics.

McKinnon and Moll’s projects form part of a $28.2 million funding package going to nine projects addressing PTSD and trauma, an announcement timed to coincide with PTSD Awareness Day on June 27.

“Our own data suggests that one in four health-care workers report symptoms consistent with a probable diagnosis of PTSD,” said McKinnon, who is also Homewood Chair in Mental Health and Trauma and research lead for mental health and addiction at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

 “One in two health-care workers in our study report they are considering leaving their current position due to moral distress encountered during the pandemic.  These data point to the enormous sacrifice of healthcare workers and their families throughout the pandemic and highlight further the current threat to the continuity of our healthcare system.”

Moll said: “Providing access to customized, private, high quality mental health support in the palm of people’s hands is an important step towards supporting the health of our front-line workers.

“Co-designing innovative technology solutions with frontline users is essential to ensure that the tools meet their unique needs.”

All nine national projects will help test intervention strategies and provide resources for affected personnel, service providers and organizing helping them. The projects will reach health-care providers, public safety staff and their families, as well as personal support and long-term care workers.

The investment will also facilitate a knowledge development and exchange hub, which will use data from these projects to help inform mental health interventions and enhance Canadian public health policy and practice.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused so much stress on frontline health-care and allied workers,” said Paul O’Byrne, dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster.

“It is the pioneering projects being carried out by Dr. McKinnon and Dr. Moll – helped by strong government backing for scientific and medical research – that will help those people who have sacrificed so much to keep us safe during the pandemic.”

In making the announcement, Carolyn Bennett, minister of mental health and addictions and associate minister of health, said: “With today’s investment, our government is helping create new tools to support those most at risk of PTSD and encourage their healing process, all while reducing stigma and removing barriers to care.”



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