Participants wanted for RCSI/Movember project aimed at improving mental health supports for first responders

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Recruitment is underway at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences for participants in a research project that aims to improve mental health support for first responders, their families and friends.

The project, led by the RCSI SIM Centre for Simulation Education and Research and funded by men’s health charity Movember, is called HUGS@Home (Hearing, Understanding, Guiding and Supporting). It explores how family members and friends of first responders can best support their mental health, while being mindful of their own self-care.

HUGS@Home is looking for firefighters, paramedics, their family members (spouses, partners, adult children or siblings, parents) or close friends to take part in this study. Family members/friends will participate in a simulation enhanced training program while the firefighters and paramedics will be invited to share their opinions via interviews and online surveys.

Traditionally, first responders seek support from their work colleagues and many formal and informal organisational support structures already exist. Recent research highlights that first responders bring their stress home, with some reporting their preference to speak to family members over work colleagues.

Working with various community partners, including Mental Health Ireland and Dublin Civil Defence, the HUGS@Home 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.

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, who said: “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. Early intervention approaches reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress. We know that firefighters and paramedics lean on their family/close friends for support and we want to help prepare family members for this, while also looking after themselves and their own mental health.”

Professor Walter Eppich, RCSI Chair of Simulation and project co-lead, commented: "Access to available support services for first responders remains limited, and many turn to their work colleagues or family and friends. With HUGS@Home, we want 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 through early intervention so they may continue to function in the service of public safety.”

To learn more about the HUGS@Home project and how to get involved, visit the website or complete this form to express your interest.

Video link

A preview of Burning Up, a documentary film by Daire Fitton and Eoin Shortiss exploring the mental burden placed upon firefighters, which includes interviews with members of the HUGS@Home research team.