RCSI receives Movember funding to support mental health of first responders

  • General news
  • Research

RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has received funding of 267K from the charity Movember to improve mental health support for first responders.

The funding, part of a €5m Veterans and First Responders Mental Health Grant Program, was awarded to the SAFER Families/Friends research project led by the RCSI SIM Centre for Simulation Education and Research. It is the only project selected from the Republic of Ireland for this funding.

Working with various community partners, including Mental Health Ireland and Dublin Civil Defence, the project will explore how family members and friends can best support their first responder’s mental health, while being mindful of their own self-care.

First responders deal with stressful events as part of their daily activities, with research showing that they are more likely to experience a range of mental health issues such as depression, PTSD, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts/behaviour. While support services are available, access can be limited due to lack of resources or the stigma associated with seeking help, and first responders often rely on the 'social support' of their families and close friends. The SAFER Families/Friends project aims to equip families and friends of 100 first responders with the skills they need to both recognise the signs and symptoms of stress and provide a basic helpful intervention to their first responder.

As part of the project intervention, participants will engage in simulated scenarios, learning how to deal with the aftermath of critical incidents, specifically providing social support and psychological first aid. The training will be facilitated by the RCSI SIM Centre, which embodies deep expertise in simulation-based experiential learning, communication training, assessment, engaging with simulated participants and a track record of impactful healthcare education research.

Professor Walter Eppich, RCSI Chair of Simulation and project lead, commented: "Extreme situations can be distressing and difficult for individuals to process. Early intervention approaches reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Since access to the available support services remains limited, we would like to build on the social support that already exists to help combat the after-effects of these stressful events. This project aims to support first responder resilience and wellbeing so they may continue to function in the service of public safety.”

The project is co-led by Michelle O'Toole, Senior Simulation Researcher at RCSI SIM and a former fire fighter and advanced paramedic with the Dublin Fire Brigade.

Movember, which runs its fundraising drive in November each year, seeks to 'change the face of men's health on a global scale'. Movember and its partners, including The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride, provide funding to research projects all over the world in the areas of mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer and testicular cancer.

Speaking about the goals of the Veterans and First Responders Mental Health Grant Program, Brendan Maher, Global Director of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention at Movember, said: "We owe an enormous amount to our veterans and first responder communities. Through this initiative, Movember wants to help our grant funding partners prove that their programmes are positively impacting mental health outcomes. We want to build the evidence for programmes that truly make a difference to the lives of these men and their families."

Recruitment for SAFER Families/Friends is underway, with the project expected to start in the first quarter of 2022. For more information, contact Michelle O'Toole.