Despite a rash of suicides and mounting evidence, first responders suffering from PTSD say they still face prejudice on the job.
“We know of many first responders who have come forward and asked for help and the unfortunate reality is that many of them have been harassed, ridiculed, ostracized, and that just makes the matter worse,” said Vince Savoia of the Tema Conter Trust.
Savoia also said that there are continuing barriers in winning disability claims for the disorder.
His charity, The Tema Conter Memorial Trust, works to raise awareness of PTSD among paramedics, fire fighters, police and corrections officers. More than 30 first responders have killed themselves in those professions since last April, according to the trust.
Savoia was speaking at a conference on first responders the organization is sponsoring in Vaughan. Among the speakers was Mindy Piva, a former paramedic who had to leave her job because of trauma suffered on one particularly difficult occasion.
“It changed my brain forever,” she said in an interview with Global News.
Piva said it is important for first responders to understand the mental health risks of their jobs.
“Because me going into it – I had no idea that this was a possibility. So yeah, I think there’s positive changes but I think there definitely needs to be more.”
Concurrently with the Conter conference was another meeting of health care professionals in Scarborough where they talked about treating PTSD.
Participants witnessed a simulation of what paramedics often face. They gathered in the parking lot where a wrecked car was on display. Two teenagers were made up with fake head injuries and a 10-year-old girl was pretending that she was lying unconscious on the ground.
Paramedics with Toronto EMS demonstrated how they would offer initial treatment and transport the injured.
Afterwards, Dave Dasti, a paramedic educator with Ornge explained some of the protocols EMS workers follow.
“What’s really important is being aware of both how you’re feeling and how your colleagues are feeling,” he said, calling it “psychological first aid.”
Geoff MacBride, president of the Ontario Paramedic Association, said society is starting to understand the challenges of PTSD.
“It is not a weakness; it is an illness that needs to be addressed just like a broken bone, just like cancer, just like a cardiac event. It’s very relevant and a very obvious thing in our profession and in all emergency services.”
If you, a family member or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, or you believe they may be suffering from severe depression and/or anxiety, there are many organizations available to help including the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. A lengthy list can be found here.