Lakehead researcher developing resources to support firefighter mental health during COVID-19

June 15, 2020 – Thunder Bay, Ont.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research has awarded Lakehead University’s Dr. Kathryn Sinden with a $49,968 Knowledge Synthesis COVID-19 rapid response grant to spend six months developing resources to support the mental health of firefighters working during COVID-19.

Photo of Dr. Kathryn Sinden

Due to the important work that they perform, firefighters are often “first-on-scene” and have a higher chance of being exposed to transferable diseases including COVID-19, said Dr. Sinden, an Assistant Professor in Kinesiology.

“Researchers have found that in periods of heightened risk such as a pandemic, there are further impacts on individuals’ mental health,” she said.

“For example, following the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, front-line workers identified this event as traumatic and those who had higher risk for SARS exposure reported more post-traumatic stress injury symptoms than other workers.”

Dr. Sinden believes firefighters would have the same exposure to mental health conditions during and following the COVID-19 pandemic as other front line workers reported due to SARS.

“Consequently, in addition to known factors that increase firefighters’ risk for mental health disorders, COVID-19 has created a unique and challenging context where their risk for experiencing mental health conditions has increased,” she said.

This research will use an integrated knowledge translation approach, meaning firefighters will be embedded in the research process. As a team, they will appraise information about managing mental health from peer-reviewed academic journals, online information specific to firefighter health and general platforms, and existing guidelines provided by firefighter associations.

Dr. Sinden will use the results of this research to develop various resources that can be implemented by the firefighter community, with implications for first responder groups across Canada, to develop strategies to help them better manage their mental health and prevent illness.

“We are very pleased to have received this funding from CIHR,” said Dr. Andrew Dean, Lakehead’s Vice-President, Research and Innovation.

“This applied research project is important, timely and hopefully will yield valuable results for mental health management strategies for firefighters.”

In 2019/20, Lakehead University will receive nearly $2 million in assistance from the Research Support Fund to support the indirect costs of research, which includes costs for supporting the management of intellectual property, research and administration, ethics and regulatory compliance, research resources, and research facilities.







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Lakehead University is a fully comprehensive university with approximately 9,700 full-time equivalent students and over 2,000 faculty and staff at two campuses in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead has 10 faculties, including Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Graduate Studies, Health & Behavioural Sciences, Law, Natural Resources Management, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Science & Environmental Studies, and Social Sciences & Humanities. In 2019, Maclean’s 2020 University Rankings, once again, included Lakehead University among Canada’s Top 10 primarily undergraduate universities, while Research Infosource named Lakehead 'Research University of the Year' in its category for the fifth consecutive year. Visit