For advanced-care paramedic Nicholas Hennink, years of trauma began to take a toll.
That’s when Hennink found himself in a dark place, turning to alcohol in order to cope.
“Through dealing with my alcoholism, I realized a lot of my trauma was (post-traumatic stress disorder),” Hennink said. “A lot of it was trauma that I saw, dealt with and didn’t deal with when I went through it at the time.”
Throughout his career, which spans 16 years and counting, Hennink has been based in Moose Jaw, Sask. Over the years, he’s had his ups and downs and was eventually diagnosed with PTSD.
“Addiction and PTSD really do work hand-in-hand for a lot of us,” Hennink said. “That’s when I realized there was a problem, and I needed to come forward and tackle both at the same time.”
On his road to recovery, Hennink turned to the one thing that could pull him out of the darkness: music.
“When I was going through this, I took my music and used it as a coping mechanism,” Hennink said. “I switched it from alcohol to music.”
Two years ago, he started raising money for paramedics and other first responders who are seeking professional help through Project Warriors. The money is then donated to Operational Stress Injuries Canada (OSI-CAN) to help others.
OSI-CAN is a joint project of the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Royal Canadian Legion. It provides programs such as peer support groups and serves members of the armed forces as well as police and first responders.
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All proceeds from Hennink’s music also go to support OSI-CAN. His latest project includes the filming of a video for a song he wrote called Warriors.
“The song is a dedication, a tribe to the emergency services and what they do for their communities,” Hennink said.
“We wanted to put something out there showing what we do and all the services working as a team. Everybody in the video was a first responder. It was real; they weren’t actors, and it worked out great.”
Recently, the U.S. army contacted Hennink to use his song in a concert on March 24-25, honouring post-9/11 soldiers in Arlington, Va.
“I thought it was fake because, honestly, who gets an email from the U.S. army?” Hennink said. “I’m proud that this song is reaching as far as it did. It just motivates me to keep going and reach as many people as I can.”
It’s something that also makes Kyle Sereda, chief of the Moose Jaw and District EMS, proud.
“To see the unique things like music or video or concerns, all of those avenues, it’s just nice to continue to spread the message,” Sereda said, adding one of the biggest barriers first responders face when it comes to seeking help is that there’s not enough.
“We’ve seen a lot of change over the last couple of years, and there’s a lot of initiative by government and health to look at mental wellness, there’s just not enough yet,” Sereda said.
“We focus a lot on mental wellness. There is so much good that police, fire and paramedics get exposed to, we can’t forget that. The job itself is very satisfying, but there are challenges when you see the trauma and the bad side of it.”
At the end of the day, Hennink hopes his music continues to encourage others to reach out, letting them know they’re not alone.
“If you struggle, you have to say something because you can get over it, you just have to tackle it while it’s happening,” Hennink said.