REGINA -- The team behind an online tool developed to help public safety personnel (PSP) access mental health supports said the majority of the pilot project’s users reported it helped improve their mental health.

Called PSPNET, the program developed by the University of Regina and the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment launched in Saskatchewan one year ago and in Quebec in September 2020.

PSPNET offers free online learning involving an eight-week program that includes confidential access to treatment for symptoms of depression, anxiety and more. It also involves weekly email or phone support from a therapist.

The program is free of charge for current, former and volunteer personnel.

“Our aim now is to increase the number of PSP we are reaching,” said Heather Hadjistavropoulos, the principal investigator with PSPNET. “PSP can't use our services if they don't know about them. As you know, First responders and other public safety personnel are critical to our safety, and helping them ultimately helps everyone.”

"This is another resource that public safety personnel groups have available to them,” said Sgt. Joy Prince, RCMP F Division’s peer to peer coordinator. “The fact that from a geographical perspective we're spread out all over the place, and no matter what public safety group you're involved with, that can create some challenges."

To date, 137 first responders and other PSP have used the program in Saskatchewan along with 41 in Quebec.

According to the team, users have said PSPNET has had a positive impact on their mental health even amid a year with the added stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nearly 90 per cent of individuals who have taken the eight-week online therapy and PSPNET courses have reported increased confidence and ability to manage their symptoms,” said Hadjistavropoulos. Nearly 90 per cent have also seen their symptoms of anxiety and depression reduced and maintained at non-clinical levels. The current results evidence PSPNET is making a major difference to PSP who have enrolled in the program.”

The pilot is funded by the federal government through Public Safety Canada. The goal is eventually to make it available to all Canadian public safety personnel including firefighters, border services, police, paramedics, search and rescue, corrections and more.