Canadian first responders share their stories about dealing with PTSD

WATCH ABOVE: 16×9’s full episode on PTSD and first responders “In Harm’s Way”

Following 16×9’s powerful story on the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) crisis among Canadian first responders, viewers got the chance to join three experts Monday for an online chat to ask questions and share their own experiences.

Global News producer Brennan Leffler was joined by Vince Savoia from the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, RCMP Sgt. Jag Soin, and Dr. Jeff Morley, a psychologist and recently retired member of the RCMP, for a live chat on the struggles associated with PTSD that have led to more than 30 first responders taking their own lives since April 2014.

READ MORE: The PTSD crisis among Canada’s first responders

From firefighters in Quebec to emergency dispatchers in Alberta, viewers from across Canada shared their stories that often touched on the stigma associated with PTSD in the workplace.

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“Been suffering PTSD for 4 years, very strongly relate to these stories,” said one reader. “Doctors gave me diagnoses around the problem (depressive disorder, alcohol addiction, non-specific psychosis). PTSD is just too much for so many to accept, and there are too many suffering with it, and it’s just too costly to deal with. So I’m on disability, but there is no help. Severe trauma is what it is and it does real damage to real human beings.”

Morley, who was featured on 16×9, is a psychologist who sees many first responders dealing with PTSD and said changing work place culture attitudes towards PTSD and mental health is one of the “hardest parts.”

“Resourcing levels and toxic workplaces only amplify impact of traumatic stressors on first responders,” said Morley.

WATCH: An extended interview with Sgt. Jag Soin

Wayne Easter, who is the director for both the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation and Many to One PTSD Support Foundation, said he has seen first-hand how serious PTSD is within the emergency services community.

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“Having almost lost a very close friend to PTSD had it not been for taking the time to get them to talk, we all need to take a much bigger part in recognizing this disorder and assisting those with it be it initial diagnosis or assisting them with support afterwards,” said Easter.

In Edmonton, veteran paramedic Greg Turner was laid to rest Saturday after taking his own life while on the job the morning of Jan. 26.

READ MORE: ‘Depression made that choice’: Wife of Edmonton paramedic who took his own life

Currently Alberta is the only province where workplace insurance coverage is presumptive for PTSD, meaning the diagnosis alone is sufficient to make a claim.

“The key is to get PTSD recognized as an occupational disease,” said a viewer identified as Peter. “In Ontario it is an outdated system that does not recognize PTSD when it is cumulative versus an acute incident. Almost everyone I have heard that applies under the cumulative policy is denied and has to appeal as I am doing.”

“We know the work has risk and that it takes a toll,” Morley told Global News. “So when a first responder comes forward, overcomes their own stigma and fear to say ‘help’… I think we need to presume that it’s legit.”

Sgt. Jag Soin, who has served more than 20 years with the RCMP, shared his traumatic story with 16×9 about responding to a domestic disturbance incident in 2001 in northern Labrador that quickly escalated when he and his partner were doused with gasoline and set on fire.

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READ MORE: 6 months, 23 first responder suicides – what are we doing to help? 

“The last thought that came through my mind, I thought this is it. I am never going to see my son again,” said Soin.

His is still recovering from the incident 13 years later. The haunting memory of the incident has led to nightmares and self-medication involving alcohol, all while keeping silent.

Morely said Soin’s story is a common one, as responders will hesitate to speak with someone if they know their information will be shared with their employer.

“Responders won’t talk openly with a psychologist if they know [the] psychologist [is] required to send a report to their employer detailing their issues,” he said. “Worried this [will be] used against them.”

READ MORE: Winnipeg firefighter trapped in fatal 2007 blaze still battles PTSD

One viewer pointed out emergency dispatchers who often field hundreds of traumatic calls are left out of the PTSD conversation.

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“I am an EMS dispatcher in Ontario. The dispatchers are all too often forgotten, but we too suffer PTSD. I have PTSD and if it weren’t for my faith and perseverance in getting help for myself, I wouldn’t be here today,” said a viewer identified as “EMD.”

Morely said while talking about the PTSD crisis is essential it’s also important to recognize how resilient first responders are.

“People can get PTSD from a single traumatic event,” he said. “Most first responders are exposed to dozens if not hundreds over the course of a career, and overall cope quite well. People can both have PTSD and be resilient. Yes, PTSD is a significant issue, but we need to honour how resilient first responders are – even those struggling with PTSD.”

Below is the full live blog featuring Global’s Brennan Leffler, Vince Savoia, RCMP Sgt. Jag Soin and Dr. Jeff Morley.


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