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U of R team using biometric clothing, $1 million grant to study mental health

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WATCH: A University of Regina team began their research on the mental health of public safety workers three years ago. That research has focused on the RCMP. – Apr 17, 2020

After three years studying the mental health of Canadian RCMP officers, a University of Regina-led team is extending their research to include all public safety personnel with the help of a new, federal grant.

An end goal of the new work s to help create an easy-to-use product that helps front-line safety workers of any kind identify and remedy mental health challenges.

READ MORE: B.C.’s registered psychologists offering free mental health support during coronavirus pandemic

“What we’re hoping the end user will see is a nice combination of clinicians, and clinical interviews, self reported data and biometric data in a single tool,” said University of Regina Psychology Professor Nicholas Carleton, “that allows public safety personnel to monitor their own mental health, to more readily engage with it.

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“From their perspective, it should be a nearly one-stop shop to protect their mental health and that’s what we’re really excited about.”

Carleton listed municipal police forces, firefighters, paramedics, correctional officers and border crossing staff as some of the safety personnel with unique mental health challenges that he hopes the research will benefit.

Click to play video 'The mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic' The mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
The mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic – Apr 16, 2020

The grant is worth $989,925 and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research,

In 2017 the University of Regina was awarded an $8.9 million contract by the federal government to conduct a study on the effects policing has on the mental health of RCMP officers.

The study, which Carleton called an “unprecedented effort”, helped create a special app that is currently being used by RCMP members to track and identify mental health challenges.

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“RCMP Study”  is set to be downloaded by three teams of RCMP cadets (some of whom have now been deployed).

Screengrabs from the RCMP study website show the ways biometric data is being collected for the study. The shirts are made by Hexoskin. http://www.rcmpstudy.ca
Screengrabs from the RCMP study website show the ways biometric data is being collected for the study. The shirts are made by Hexoskin. http://www.rcmpstudy.ca
Screengrabs from the RCMP study website show the ways biometric data is being collected for the study. The shirts are made by Hexoskin. http://www.rcmpstudy.ca

Once a day, through training and the first five years of participating members’ careers, users will self-report mental health observations.

Some of the study’s participants will also use biometric technology, including shirts that track heart rate, breathing rate and movement, to compliment self-reported data.

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The data gathered from the first two teams of cadets will help create a mental health training program that will be tested during training by the third team of cadets. That team’s data will then be compared to that of the first two teams to determine the effectiveness of the program.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Saskatchewan investing in mental health services

Carleton hopes to be able to scale the framework developed for the RCMP study to different public safety organizations.

“The significant support from CIHR and our collaborators will allow our impressive network of people to adapt our existing software and platform,” he said.

The research will be aided by $795,000 in-kind support from various public safety agencies and the University of Regina, and $47,250 from the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency.

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