By Chad Ingram
Published April 13, 2017
Firefighters put their lives at risk in more ways than one on the job.
They obviously put their physical safety at risk, but so too their mental health.
Last week, Algonquin Highlands council approved a post-traumatic stress disorder plan for the township’s volunteer fire department, along with an anti-stigma policy.
The plan was created in conjunction with the county’s other municipal fire departments and will be supported by a county peer support team.
The labour ministry has directed that all municipalities employing first responders submit PTSD prevention plans. This is a wonderful development as it is high time for legislation and policies to catch up to the realities faced by first responders and the impacts those realities can have.
Most firefighters, police officers and paramedics will encounter traumatic events in their work, including people in distress, those who have been badly injured or those who have died, sometimes in horrific ways.
Over time, these experiences can internalize themselves as post-traumatic stress disorder. Last year, a report from the International Association of Fire Fighters showed that 17 per cent of Canadian firefighters and paramedics had reported suffering from PTSD.
And those were just the ones who’d reported it.
Like any other mental health condition, there is often a reluctance among those affected to admit they’re having problems, so the percentage, in reality, is likely higher.
This is why it’s important that along with a plan aimed at the prevention of PTSD, there is also a policy aimed at reducing the stigma around it.
There’s been much progress around reducing stigma associated with mental health conditions in Canada during the past decade or so, the cause helped by celebrities, politicians and other public figures who’ve gone public about their own struggles.
Statistics suggest that in Canada, one in five of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in a our lives and one in 10 will have an ongoing struggle with a mental health condition.
Statistics also suggest those rates can be higher among first responders.
A former county EMS chief once spoke about how the macho culture that can exist within the first responder culture can mean some are reluctant to speak about troubles they may be having.
Having these sorts of policies in place should make first responders realize that it’s not only OK to talk about any difficulties they may be having, but encouraged. In the long run, it should help lessen the number of cases of PTSD.