Minister says PTSD summit will inform how Ontario treats first responders

A private members' bill to expand WSIB coverage for first responders is stalled again as the house rises.
Getty Images/Jay Janner

TORONTO – Dozens of experts and first responders gathered in Toronto Thursday to talk about workplace mental health issues.

The summit was put on by the Ontario government. The minister of labour said he hopes some recommendations will come of it.

But what’s the province going to do to treat the growing number of suicides among Ontario’s first responders? It says it’s working on that.

“We’re treating this issue very, very seriously. Have we arrived at a decision yet? Not yet. Have we gathered a lot of information we need to make that decision?  Yes we have,” Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn said. “Today is going to being very instructive too, when we hear from the other experts in the field on this issue.”

The conference wasn’t originally tasked with coming up with any recommendations but Flynn told reporters Thursday he hopes some of the information gained at the summit will inform how the province tries to deal with mental health issues.

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The summit itself was a long time in the making, borne out of a government report commissioned in 2012. The October report of non-binding recommendations suggested the stakeholder summit, and the Ontario government quickly agreed.

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One of the options on the table is a private member’s bill put forward by NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo that tries to lessen the burden placed on first responders dealing with PTSD to prove the traumatic experience happened at work. The bill has passed its second reading at Queen’s Park with unanimous support and stakeholders like Vince Savoia of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust and the Toronto Professional Firefighters Association support it.

But Flynn wouldn’t say Thursday whether or not the bill will pass.

“What we’d like to do is bring forth a comprehensive package that includes the review of the Workplace Safety Insurance Board to make sure that the type of coverage we’re providing, whether it be presumptive or whether it be based more on the B.C. model, is the right model for the province of Ontario and for emergency workers in this province.”

Ontario has been making steps however. The 2014 budget included $4.5 million for the Ontario Provincial Police to spend on mental health training.

READ MORE: How to get help if you or someone you know has PTSD

The Tema Conter Memorial Trust works with first responders dealing with PTSD and operational stress disorders. The organization also has a running tally of suicides by first responders on its website. Five first responders and two military members have killed themselves since Jan. 1 according to the organization. Twenty-seven killed themselves in 2014.

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Flynn said changes to WSIB can’t be the only thing Ontario does and suggested workplaces that “proactively” treat PTSD have seen results.

Former senator and retired General Roméo Dallaire gave the keynote address Thursday and said the summit is “essential.”

He said however that not enough is being done.

“It’s new and we’ve got a whole bunch of walking wounded out there,” he said. “We are getting no support. So we’re finally realizing that the first responders can also be wounded by the traumas that they have to face in accomplishing their missions.”

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.

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