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Things that Sound Good, Part II: Road to Mental Readiness Training for Police

A couple of years ago I attended my first IACP (the big annual Police Chiefs Conference). With more enthusiasm than conviction, I scanned the list of presentations looking for some Canadian content. My eyes lighted on one intriguing possibility: a presentation by one of the Canadian police colleges on the use of a program known as Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR).

What is R2MR? It’s a programme developed by the Canadian forces, and subsequently adapted for first responders and supported by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. R2MR purports to:

  • Improve short-term performance and long-term mental health outcomes;

  • Reduce barriers to care and encourage early access to care;

  • Provide the tools and resources required to manage and support employees who may be experiencing a mental illness; and

  • Assist supervisors in maintaining their own mental health as well as promoting positive mental health in their employees (MHCC 2018).

Since crossing over from military usage, police agencies and police training colleges across Canada have been quick to adopt the program despite the fact that it has zero evidence base. Yes, that’s correct: in relation to its use with police personnel, there has been only one single peer-reviewed, published evaluation of this program (of which I’ll say more shortly). Despite this fact, program proponents – the MHCC among them – are quick to claim that it is not only ‘evidence based’ but has a “strong evidence base” (Falzi 2016). What this means I cannot say, other than to note that the MHCC conducted a pre-test/post-test study, which they claim produced the following results:

I have repeatedly looked for this study and been unable to find it. One of the hallmarks of science and scientific research is documentation. When researchers lay claim to having performed research and achieved certain results, it is incumbent upon them to publish their study and its methodology through some type of venue through which other researchers can access their methodology, hopefully their data, and thus replicate or disprove their findings. This is how science works. What they shouldn’t do – if they want to be taken seriously – is release results that cannot be verified because the study is hidden somewhere.

I’m not the only who has been a bit concerned over the fast pace at which R2MR has been rolled out to First Responders without proper evaluation. Dr. Don McCreary (Brock) has also raised some concerns:

While it's great that people don't hate the course, high satisfaction rates are not an indicator that people learned anything (just ask any university professor about these things; they'll happily tell you).

Returning to the one study I could locate, this was produced by Nick Carleton (2018) and his colleagues at CIPSRT (Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment). Using a sample of 147 police employees who had received R2MR for First Responders training and were provided pre- and post-training questionnaires at 6 months and 12 months, the researchers found that:

The results were consistent with other single session interventions; specifically, there were no significant changes in mental health symptoms, resilience, or work engagement (p > .05). There were small, but significant (p < .05), reductions in stigma at post-training that may facilitate help-seeking among police; relatedly, in openended response fields, participants commonly described the training as helpful for changing attitudes and improving communication (Carleton et al. 2018).

Anyone familiar with the concept of statistical significance will tell you that a p value of less than 05 is okay, but not great. So, the evidence base for R2MR is one independent evaluation that generated results best termed ‘meh.’

What’s the takeaway? Until proven otherwise through solid, independent, replicable research, R2MR is not evidence based, it’s unproven. And it’s also another example of how we need to increase the level of healthy skepticism with which we approach the latest buzz terms and bandwagons.

*For another read on the state of R2MR research, you might also want to check out a post by Dr. Don McCreary at:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/first-formal-test-road-mental-readiness-r2mr-program-mccreary-ph-d-/

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