In a crisis, people turn to first responders.
It aims to fill a gap in the public health system with a personalized approach. There are programs designed for first responders, veterans, health-care workers, addiction treatment and Canadians suffering from trauma, addiction and pain. It has a big focus on post-traumatic stress disorder, among other mental illnesses.
“If you showed up at the emergency room with chest pain, you wouldn’t be told, ‘Oh, here is a pamphlet for a physiotherapist for your pain and here’s an aspirin in case it’s cardiac, and here’s a stomach pill in case it’s your stomach, and those will all take care of you and have a good day,’” said Dr. Rob Tanguay, the clinic’s chief medical officer.
“You would be treated appropriately by first being diagnosed, doing tests to figure out what it is and then treated appropriately.”
He said the straightforward approach to a physical illness is often missing from the approach to diagnosing and treating mental illness.
“There is no evidence-based protocol or plan and we seem to think that’s OK and we’re trying to shift that to treating mental health like all other aspects of medicine.”
The flag-ship clinic was opened in Calgary and this is only the second location in the country, Tanguay said.
There is limited research on how many first responders experience mental health issues, however, the Centre for Suicide Prevention says first responders from all fields are twice as likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder than other Canadians.
“It’s not just treating the psychiatric disorder, but it’s also improving function and looking at long-term outcomes,” he said. “Our goal is to build resiliency.”
The clinic will be doing a pilot project with WorkSafe NB, according to WorkSafe NB president and CEO Tim Peterson.
He said mental health claims have quickly become one of the most concerning areas for the organization, which has seen more claims falling under that category.
“We’re really starting to focus on a couple really key things that we believe are important with respect to these claims. It’s really about early identification,” Peterson said.
The organization has identified a few clients it thinks will benefit from the treatment the clinic offers.
“They have the at-risk factors that we think Rob and his team here can really have a positive impact early on,” Peterson said. “The more that we can lead the way, it’s absolutely great.”
Fredericton Police Force Chief Roger Brown said the clinic is a good step toward making sure first responders get the help they need, especially when it can be so difficult to overcome stigma.
“We’ve done a lot in the past to talk about mental health and we’ve done a lot to get people help, to raise awareness, get rid of the stigma, but the question becomes what’s next and this is what’s next,” Brown said, while attending the grand opening of the clinic.
He said this will be a critical service for his members.
“Incredible. Accessible. Immediate. Stats will tell you the longer you’re off, the tougher it is to come back to work.”