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Tackling PTSD in emergency workers

Funding programmePsyIMPACT

Funding period2016 - 2019

InstitutionUniversity of Oxford

LocationUnited Kingdom

Can early support for emergency services workers prevent depression and post-traumatic stress disorder?

The project

Emergency services staff dedicate their lives to keeping others safe, but many find their own mental health suffers as a result. 

Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are disproportionately high among emergency staff. And physical problems like heart disease are a big problem too – which can sometimes be related to the strain their jobs can place on their mental health. 

Following their previous research in this area, Dr Jennifer Wild and her team at the University of Oxford are running a major trial of a new combination of therapies designed for emergency staff.

They’re aiming not just to respond to mental health problems – but to prevent problems from occurring in the first place.  

The process

Jennifer and her team previously found that student paramedics are at particular risk of developing depression or PTSD if they tend to dwell on past events or hold a negative view of their own resilience. 

So they’re now looking to target both of those risk factors – giving people the support they need before problems occur.

The internet-based support they’ve developed combines existing cognitive therapies with new ways of helping people not to dwell on negative thoughts. It also includes ongoing reminders of what’s been learnt – to help reinforce the impact of the therapy.

To see how effective this is, they’re working with 570 student paramedics for two years. Some will follow the team’s new support programme, others will use existing online support, and others won’t receive any special support at all.

The results should show whether upfront training can stop depression and PTSD from becoming serious problems. 

The potential

Jen and her team believe that this project could help thousands of emergency workers prepare for the inevitable challenges of their jobs.

Not only could this benefit these individuals and their health, mentally and physically, it could also help the NHS to improve productivity and reduce the time lost to sickness too – something that benefits all of us.

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