B.C. first responders gather for mental health conference

Inaugural mental health conference held for B.C. first responders
WATCH: Inaugural mental health conference held for B.C. first responders

More than 350 first responders have gathered for a two-day conference in Richmond starting Thursday.

The inaugural B.C. First Responders’ Mental Health Committee and Conference aims to support police officers, firefighters and paramedics who face countless traumas throughout their careers. As a result of those traumas, there’s an increased rate of post traumatic stress disorder, suicide and substance abuse in those professions.

The conference is addressing peer support, education and stigmas, encouraging people to “share it…don’t wear it.”

“There certainly was a time where you wouldn’t talk to anyone or tell anyone, and members would be self medicating, generally with alcohol,” Ralph Kaisers, with the B.C. Police Association, said.

“Today I think with the stigma not being what is was years ago for people to come forward, there are a number of different programs through organizations.”

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“The big thing is being able to talk about it.”

READ MORE: Richmond conference this week discusses mental health of first responders

Fire Captain Steve Farina is among those attending the conference.

His message: “You’re never going to eliminate suicide but I think it’s all the other things, the depression, the anxiety the unhealthy relationship with alcohol and drugs, and all of those other battles What we are needing to do is say those are unhealthy and we’re going to give you something better to cope with. We’re going to give you these tools and resources to get healthy,” he told Global News.

Last year, the British Columbia government amended legislation allowing first responders including emergency medical assistants, firefighters, police officers, sheriffs and correctional officers to make WorkSafeBC claims for compensation and health-care support if they’d been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, without having to prove it was related to their work.

“First responders, sheriffs and both provincial and federal correctional officers who experience trauma on the job and are diagnosed with a mental disorder, should not have the added stress of having to prove that their disorder is work-related, in order to receive support and compensation,” Labour Minister Harry Bains said in a statement in April, 2018.

READ MORE: Under new rules, first responders in B.C. won’t have to prove PTSD is work-related

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The First Responders’ Mental Health Conference continues through Friday at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel.

-With files from The Canadian Press and Simon Little