OTTAWA, November 17, 2020 – A childhood experience had a profound influence on Dr. R. Nicholas Carleton, the recipient of the 2020 Royal Mach-Gaensslen Prize for Mental Health Research. When first responders came to his family’s aid after a car accident, it set the course for a distinguished career.
Carleton’s early glimpse into the work of public safety personnel planted a seed of understanding about the potentially traumatic events to which these professionals are regularly exposed. Now a professor of psychology at the University of Regina and founding scientific director of the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT), Carleton has learned from and collaborated with hundreds of public safety personnel to develop an innovative research program that explores the mental health impacts of public safety work. Sharing that knowledge and creating solutions to treat and prevent mental health injuries among public safety personnel has been a key focus of his work.
“Public safety personnel serve in uncertain and often threatening situations to protect Canadians, while being repeatedly exposed to events that are potentially psychologically traumatic,” says Carleton. “My research focuses on developing theory-informed, practical tools to design and deliver evidence-based proactive training, early interventions, and tailored treatments for post-traumatic stress injuries among public safety personnel.”
Carleton’s research and clinical work has had a transformational impact on the well-being of public safety personnel*, their leaders and their families.
“The Royal Mach-Gaensslen Prize for Mental Health Research is all about innovation, impact, collaboration and excellence in research, and Dr. Carleton exhibits all these in abundance,” says Dr. Florence Dzierszinski, President of The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research. “Dr. Carleton has developed a broad research program with real impact in the field of trauma and moral injury. He has done this by engaging partners in science, government, and, most importantly, the people and organizations on the front lines of public safety. His work has influenced local, national and international discourse on the effects of trauma on public safety personnel health and well-being, and brought about new and effective ways to improve the lives of individual public safety personnel and their families.”
“Dr. Carleton and his innovative research represent the epitome of Canadian research in mental health that the foundation wished to recognize,” said Dr. Christopher Carruthers, Chair of the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation.
The Royal Mach-Gaensslen Prize for Mental Health Research is one of the most prestigious prizes in Canada for mental health researchers. The annual $100,000 award was established jointly in 2015 by the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation of Canada and The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research to recognize and support innovative and ongoing research endeavours.
“Dr. Carleton and his innovative research represent the epitome of Canadian research in mental health that the foundation wished to recognize,” said Dr. Christopher Carruthers, Chair of the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation. “We are enthusiastic to recognize Dr. Carleton’s work with the awarding of this year’s prize. The foundation continues to respond to the need for greater resources for research in mental health.”
“I am honoured to receive the Royal-Mach-Gaensslen Prize for Mental Health Research, and encouraged that the important goal of improving wellness for public safety personnel is being recognized and supported in this way,” says Carleton, who gratefully acknowledges the important roles played by many public safety personnel, his diverse colleagues, his university, and Public Safety Canada.
Dr. Carleton’s Research and Accomplishments
Carleton’s research is grounded in the principle that uncertainty, which is a significant psychological and physiological stressor, is pervasive in the work of public safety personnel, making the need for support and coping skills critical.
“Human beings don’t do well with uncertainty,” explains Carleton. “Public safety personnel regularly engage with extremely uncertain, diverse, and potentially threatening situations. Protecting public safety personnel mental health requires understanding and changing individual and environmental variables by providing evidence-based coping skills and deploying scalable mental health solutions.”
Carleton worked to establish the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) to enable collaboration between governments, public safety leaders, and researchers to support the mental health of over 325,000 Public Safety Personnel engaged in essential high-risk activities. As a result of Carleton's leadership, the federal government invested $30 million in a consortium between CIPSRT and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), which now supports dozens of mental health projects related to public safety personnel.
Carleton currently serves as founding scientific director for CIPSRT and leads numerous CIHR-funded projects. He is also co-leading development of a Canada-wide Internet Cognitive Behaviour Therapy program for public safety personnel (www.pspnet.ca) and building a tool to galvanize a national peer-support system. His study of PTSD in the RCMP (www.rcmpstudy.ca) is developing new standards and scalable tools for assessment, monitoring, and prevention of all mental health injuries among public safety personnel.
Carleton’s work is essential to effective policies and practices for public safety personnel mental health in Canada, and has been identified as a global model for mental health research.
The Royal is hosting a public webinar on Thursday, December 3 at noon EST (11 am UTC) to present Dr. Carleton with The Royal-Mach-Gaensslen Prize for Mental Health Research and share insights from his work. Click here for more information and to register.
* Public safety personnel include:
- border services officers,
- public safety communications officials,
- correctional workers,
- firefighters (career and volunteer),
- Indigenous emergency managers,
- operational intelligence personnel,
- police (municipal, provincial, federal), and
- search and rescue personnel.
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