First responders to get mental health help at new research clinic

Posted on Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Dr. Simon Hatcher et Valerie Testa

Dr. Simon Hatcher and Valerie Testa are part of a team that will launch Canada’s first research-based mental health clinic for first responders.

Recognizing the mental health needs of first responders, the City of Ottawa is championing a new study led by researchers at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa. The team will launch Canada’s first research-based mental health clinic for first responders in 2019. The project is funded under the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP), a federally-funded program led by Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), in partnership with Public Safety Canada. 

First responders regularly face traumatic situations on the job and this puts them at greater risk for mental health issues and suicide. Previous research from the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment showed that 45 percent of first responders in Canada have symptoms consistent with at least one mental health disorder. This is thought to be about four times higher than in the general population. A related study found that 28 percent of first responders in Canada experience suicidal thoughts in their lifetime. This is thought to be double the rate in the general population.

The new first responder clinic is part of a two-phase research project. The first phase will assess the preferences of Ottawa’s first responders for mental health services. The second phase will involve setting up a research-based mental health clinic and doing a pilot randomized controlled trial to test its acceptability and effectiveness over one year. The study will be open to the City of Ottawa’s police officers, firefighters, volunteer firefighters and paramedics.

Along with in-kind support from the City of Ottawa, the Canadian Safety and Security Program is providing $462,000. All research at The Ottawa Hospital is also supported by the donations to The Ottawa Hospital Foundation.


Dr. Simon Hatcher, Principal Investigator on the project, Scientist and Psychiatrist, The Ottawa Hospital, Vice-Chair, Department of Psychiatry, University of Ottawa:
“First responders face a much greater risk of mental health issues and suicide than the general population, and they also face particular challenges in accessing support. Our new research-based mental health clinic will establish and test a customized assessment program which could be a model for others to use.”

Anthony Di Monte, General Manager of Emergency and Protective Services, City of Ottawa:
“Given the crucial role mental health plays in overall health and the traumatic scenarios our emergency services are exposed to, the City of Ottawa has identified mental health support as a priority. This project is a major stepping stone in the right direction and we are pleased to be working with partners that share our vision to provide emergency personnel with the support they need.”

Angela Slobodian, Director, Wellness, Ottawa Police Service:
“We know that working as an emergency responder can have an impact on your mental health. The Ottawa Police Service supports this important initiative because it will help ensure our members and emergency responders can access the help they need in an understanding and safe setting.”

Mark Williamson, Director General, Centre for Security Science, DRDC:
“DRDC is happy to be able to support this project. We recognize the importance of the service first responders provide to our communities and are happy to be part of a project that will address the mental health consequences that result from their dedication to their jobs.”

Valerie Testa, Co-Principal Investigator on the project, Clinical Research Program Manager, The Ottawa Hospital, Master’s Student, University of Ottawa:
“Having been raised in a military family, I developed a passion for supporting people who may face traumatic situations on the job. While first responders and the military are distinct populations, there are similarities and we can learn from mental health initiatives that already exist for veterans.”

Media contacts 

  • University of Ottawa:
  • The Ottawa Hospital: Jenn Ganton,, 613-614-5253
  • City of Ottawa: 613-580-2450
  • Department of National Defence Media Relations: 613-996-2353,

Study investigators

  • Dr. Simon Hatcher (Principal Investigator): The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa
  • Valerie Testa (Co-Principal Investigator): University of Ottawa, The Ottawa Hospital
  • Dr. R. Nicholas Carleton (Co-Investigator): University of Regina, Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment
  • Dr. Ian Colman (Co-Investigator): University of Ottawa
  • Dr. Daniel Corsi (Co-Investigator): The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO)
  • Dr. Deniz Fikretoglu (Co-Investigator): Defence Research and Development Canada
  • Dr. Alexandra Heber (Co-Investigator): University of Ottawa, Veterans Affairs Canada
  • Dr. Marnin Heisel (Co-Investigator): University of Western Ontario, Lawson Health Research Institute
  • Shannon Leduc (Co-Investigator): University of Ottawa, Ottawa Paramedic Service, City of Ottawa
  • Dr. Kednapa Thavorn (Co-Investigator): The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa, Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences
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