Federal government invests $28.2M in mental health support for first responders

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WATCH: Federal government invests $28.2M in mental health support for first responders Those on the front lines of the pandemic are faced with exhaustion and a countless number are walking away from their careers. As Jill Croteau reports, the federal government announced $28 million will go towards nine different projects to address their mental health issues. – Jun 27, 2022

Daniel Sundahl calls it therapy. His art helps him navigate the things he has experienced as a paramedic. For almost two decades of his career, he experienced calls that are beyond what the mind is capable of absorbing.

“This is my therapy and one of the forms I use to process and purge the emotional (impact) and memories of calls I have done,” he said.

Sundahl has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and won’t be returning to the job.

Sundahl’s artwork. Courtesy: Daniel Sundhal

He was inspired by what he’s seen on the job and crafts powerful portraits, illustrating the dramatic impact of the trauma.

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“We are supposed to be these superheroes, these infallible people that aren’t affected by the trauma we see, and that’s just not the case,” Sundahl said.

“There’s a lot more that needs to be done. We are growing and learning, but if you look at how many have left the profession, that’s an indication as to how critical it is right now.”

Sundahl’s art piece. Courtesy: Daniel Sundahl

Recognizing the professional casualties from the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government announced it will be investing $28.2 million to be used towards nine programs and research focused on trauma for front-line and essential workers.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett, who is also the associate minister of health, made the announcement in Regina on Monday.

“This investment will provide the tools to help more people suffering head down the path of healing,” she said.

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“I hope as the stigma comes down, those on the front lines will feel support from these programs.”

Dr. Nicholas Carleton is a University of Regina professor of clinical psychology and the scientific director for the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment. The funding announced Monday will go towards research and a virtual well-being hub for the families of public safety personnel.

“Across Canada there are 400,000 nurses and 350,000 serving public safety workers across all sectors,” Carleton said.

“It’s important for Canadians to realize it’s a small group of people protecting all of us.”

READ MORE: First responders call for more support for them and their families living with PTSD

One of the projects receiving close to $9 million in funding is run by Calgary-based Wayfound. It is a program for first responders called BOS (Before Operational Stress). It teaches them how to navigate operational stress. Chief clinician Dr. Megan McElheran said this is a positive step forward.

“Our initial data for our program tells us it’s been effective,” McElheran said. “We were thrilled to have applied for the funding and to have this funded opportunity to support so many Canadians.

“This is significant and important timing to say there’s recognition of the service… and there is support for them to improve and recover their mental health from what’s been happening over last couple years.”

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Other projects will help to deliver and test interventions, develop resources for affected or at-risk populations and create resources and guidance for service providers and organizations. The projects will reach front-line and essential workers, including health-care providers, public safety personnel and their families, personal support workers and long-term care workers.

“They are burned out because we leaned on them hard for (the) last two years,” Carleton said. “Many haven’t had breaks or holidays and they were reported to (have been) having mental health challenges before the pandemic.

“They have made true sacrifices.”

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