First to the scene — and last to forget, first responders in Canada constantly put their own lives at risk to answer the cries for help of others.
Consequently, these brave men and women are often left with significant emotional and mental trauma, also known as PTSD which, left undiagnosed, can lead to depression, isolation, and suicide. In 2015 alone, 39 first responders and 12 military members in Canada died by suicide. 11 first responders and 2 military members have died by suicide to date in 2016.
While Canada still has a long way to go to ensure proper care for victims of PTSD, change is being made at the provincial level. In fact, early this year, Ontario announced a new PTSD strategy for first responders focusing on the prevention of PTSD and the reduction of stigma. Increasing awareness surrounding the struggles faced by first responders is shedding much-needed light on an issue that can no longer be ignored.
What is PTSD?
PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a very real phenomenon facing over 20% of all-first responders, according to the Tema Conter Memorial Trust. Many Canadians are unaware that PTSD is, in fact, a mental illness that involves reliving a psychologically traumatic situation long after any physical danger involved has passed.
While PTSD was previously identified as an anxiety disorder, the medical community now classifies PTSD as part of an emerging group of Trauma- and Stress- or- related disorders. The new approach to PTSD introduces verbiage intended to facilitate the diagnosis of PTSD among first responders.
Why is it so important that PTSD be recognized as a mental illness and not a side affect of the job? Because even today, the stigma attached to victims of PTSD is fierce and prevents many first responders from getting the help they need.
In an article published by Global News in 2014, Vince Savoia, founder of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, shares his experience as a former paramedic and emergency dispatcher, unveiling the truth about first responders seeking help in industries where bravery and helping others replaces the need to help oneself.
In an interview with CTV News, Savoia says “They’ll be running into crises when most people will be running away from it,” he said. “They’re so accustomed to responding to everybody else’s cries for help, that they’re very reluctant to take that back seat and actually view themselves as someone who requires help.”
Resources for First Responders
The Tema Conter Memorial Trust is an organization devoted to helping first responders coping with operational stress and PTSD. Recognizing a gap in the current system, the organization offers a Peer and Family Assistance Support Line run by retired first responders, correctional officers, emergency communicators, and members of the military all trained in crisis and suicide intervention.
They also offer the “Wounded Warrior” Peer Support and Family Assistance Fund designed to help with the counseling costs related with PTSD. Those eligible for the fund include EMS, Fire Communications Officers, Correctional Officers, Firefighters, Military members, Paramedics, Police Officers and Peace Officers.
If you, or a colleague is showing symptoms of PTSD, visit your family doctor right away, and remember you don’t need an official diagnosis to ask for help. Also, take the time to visit the resources below to learn more about PTSD and locate cognitive-behavioural therapists (CBT) and support groups in your area:
Badge of Life Canada: A website for education and research, with access to professionals & peer support volunteers, dedicated to Canadian municipal, provincial & civilian police personnel, as well as their families relating to Operational Stress Injuries, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder & Suicide Prevention.
The Canadian Critical Incident Stress Foundation (CCISF): A charitable organization dedicated to the mitigation of disabling stress and the fight against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for Emergency Service Workers and Communities that have been involved in or exposed to traumatic events
Additional resources for First Response Staff and Organizations:
The Winnipeg Suicide Prevention Network: A Guide for Early Responders Supporting Survivors Bereaved by Suicide
Centre for Suicide Prevention: Trauma, Intervention and Suicide Prevention