New program to address mental health crisis faced by first responders

Click to play video 'Help coming for troubled first responders, firefighters' Help coming for troubled first responders, firefighters
WATCH: Dealing with death and injury on the job can take its toll on firefighters. They even face higher than average divorce and suicide rates. But as Rumina Daya reports, help is on the way.

Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services is launching a new mental health initiative to benefit first responders.

The launch is in collaboration with Canadian Mental Health Association, which says emergency service staff across Canada are in the middle of a mental health crisis.

The initiative is designed to better prepare the 800 Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services staff for the challenges they face on a daily basis.

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

“First responders deal with a lot of tragedy in their profession,” says IAFF Local 18 President Rob Weeks. “All of us collectively are not so great at admitting we need help. We come into this job to help people and in doing so, we often turn our backs on ourselves when we need it the most.”

Weeks says their biggest challenge is the invisibility of mental illness. “It’s not obvious, it’s not trauma, it’s not a burn, but we all suffer and have suffered from calls that we have been to,” he says.

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Weeks says he has witnessed children dying in front of their parents and parents dying in front of their children.

READ MORE: Is there enough mental health support for first responders?

“The reaction of loved ones to those traumatic events leaves a lasting impression on our first responders,” he adds.

Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services and the Canadian Mental Health Association say the newly-launched program is an opportunity to increase mental health literacy, encourage access to care and strengthen the psychological health of first response teams.

Organizers say the goal is to build awareness of stress-related injuries and the devastating impacts of trauma through skillbuilding workshops providing comprehensive information on trauma, mental health problems and resiliency.