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Pilot program lets New Brunswick first responders text for mental help

Click to play video 'Project launched to help N.B. first responders in mental distress' Project launched to help N.B. first responders in mental distress
WATCH: A new pilot project in New Brunswick is offering first responders the chance to seek help by text message if they are experiencing mental distress. It was launched by a former paramedic and is believed to be the first of its kind in Canada. Tim Roszell has more – Sep 10, 2020

A new pilot project in New Brunswick is allowing first responders the chance to seek help by text message if they are experiencing mental distress.

Rothesay-based Hope 4 Heroes Canada, in partnership with Kids Help Phone, has launched a Crisis Text Line service across the province.

First responders, and others who work closely with them, simply text “H4H” to 741741 to be connected with trained volunteer public safety professionals who can offer guidance and assistance.

Hope 4 Heroes President and Founder Michael Johnston, a former paramedic diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), said his organization wanted to try the program because texting is discreet.

“You could be in your vehicle that you use at work with your partner and maybe not be comfortable to talk about it there,” Johnston said. “So this is kind of an anonymous way.

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“Texting is normal. It looks like you’re on your phone maybe doing something else. But really you could be having a conversation that could save your life.”

READ MORE: COVID-19 adds new wrinkle to police response in New Brunswick

Fredericton Police Force Sgt. Bobbi Simmons-Beauchamp said the text line can take away the stigma of mental health struggles.

Simmons-Beauchamp said she was diagnosed with PTSD after her brother was murdered in Halifax in 2000. She said many members of her force dealt with challenges following the deaths of constables Robb Costello and Sara Burns, who were killed in the line of duty along with two civilians on Aug. 10, 2018, in Fredericton.

She said she’s fortunate she sought help years ago and sees several benefits to a text-based service.

“I can tell you that I had some very, very dark days, and I had some very, very long nights,” Simmons-Beauchamp said.

“And if I had had this (texting) tool, I’m sure some of those nights wouldn’t have been as long. Or maybe some of those points wouldn’t have been as dark because I (would) have the option in the moment to reach out to someone.”

The program contains an educational component focusing on key messages, including ‘it’s ok to not be ok,’ ‘you are not alone,’ and ‘you are not weak for reaching out for help.’

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The launch of the Crisis Text Line coincides with 2020 World Suicide Prevention Day, which is September 10.

“Too often we don’t know that our brothers and sisters in uniform are suffering until it is too late,” Johnston said in a news release. “We lose far too many to suicide. Our hope is that no one will feel so alone that they see suicide as their only option.”

READ MORE: ‘Multiple patients’: Recordings of first responders reveal frantic bid to help

Johnston said the text line has been operational for about two weeks. He said it’s not clear how often it has been used, but Hope 4 Heroes will be tracking usage numbers.

It’s also not certain how long the pilot program will run, but he said he hopes the program catches on elsewhere in Canada so first responders can get help the moment they need it.

“Be proud of yourself for being able to step out of that bubble,” Johnston said. “Go get help. If not for yourself, it’s for your family and people that care about you. And make sure that you’re healthy. In every way.”

“I absolutely feel that this service will save lives,” Simmons-Beauchamp said. “When you’re in that moment, when you don’t know, ‘What am I going to do and how do I end what I’m feeling, how do I get out of this moment?’ Just picking up your phone and sending that quick text can make the difference.”

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