Paramedics in Saskatchewan are mourning the loss of one of their own after 37-year-old Robbie Curtis with Regina EMS, took his own life last week.
According to his obituary, he’s being remembered as a “dynamic, enthusiastic and talented young man,” who struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and its associated battles.
For former paramedic Josh Mamela, the news hits close to home. Not only did he know Curtis, but he’s been fighting his own battle with PTSD for the past year, after five years on the job.
“He’s always sort of had that happy-go-lucky smile on his face type guy,” Mamela said. “A lot of us just suffer through PTSD and then either turn to substances or in worse case scenarios end up taking their life.”
While Mamela has been receiving support through the Workers Compensation Board, he says more is needed to help those on the front line struggling with mental health.
“Where I’m working right now we don’t really necessarily have a protocol. You go to a fatality, or you have a bad call- you sit in the back of your rig cleaning it up and reliving it pretty much the whole time. After you’re done cleaning, you have to write a picture perfect report of everything you just saw,” Mamela said.
“Then it’s just put it down, don’t think about it and on to the next.”
Steven Skoworodko, paramedic and president of the Saskatchewan Emergency Medical Services Association (SEMSA) said Curtis’s suicide is the third by a paramedic in Saskatchewan since 2015.
“We definitely strive to try and have that open conversation and it definitely has been more of an open conversation than it has been in previous years,” Skoworodko said.
Still, Skoworodko said access to resources is one barrier first responders continue to face.
“There’s lots of mental health professionals out there, but not one dedicated in the province that we can direct a paramedic to and say ‘this person is going to understand the things you’ve gone through and the things that you’ve seen and will help you with your stresses and dealing with mental health problems,'” Skoworodko said.
Organizations like Wounded Warriors work to offer services to font line responders across the country, including support for both individuals and their families. But executive director, Scott Maxwell said there’s not one standard across the country when it comes to dealing with mental health, instead calling it a patchwork of policies.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of best practices sharing, information sharing, resource sharing across the country when it comes to first responders,” Maxwell said. “So not only do we need more service support, more program support on the front end, on the back end we need more partnerships and alliances.”
Moreover, Julius Brown, spokesman for PTSD support initiative OSI-CAN said more needs to be done when it comes to raising awareness and combating the stigma around PTSD.
For Mamela, he hopes by speaking out and sharing his story that it encourages others to speak about their struggles.
“In the long run, if I can help one person that’s why I’m sitting here doing this today,” Mamela said. “Everyday’s a battle but there’s that light at the end of the tunnel and if you keep battling things will get better.”