According to this article, 13 of Canada’s first responders have committed suicide in a span of about 10 weeks, i.e paramedics, firefighters, police officers, dispatchers and prison staff have ended their lives after working in challenging jobs that regularly required them to act in emergency situations that most individuals choose to avoid to maintain their own safety and wellbeing. Despite working in the best interest of others, these first responders did not receive the necessary support in their own times of crisis to save their lives; these tragedies demand changes be made towards preventing such occurrences.
Organizations like the Tema Conter Memorial Trust promote awareness of mental health among Canada’s emergency workers, and a bill introduced by the New Democratic Party of Ontario’s Member of Provincial Parliament, Cheri DiNovo attempts to remove the requirement that first responders suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have to prove that their mental health symptoms are the reason that they cannot work, which would make it easier for getting benefits through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Since access to mental health support varies for first responders depending on where one lives and works, individuals may only have access to regional counselling staff who may not be as familiar with the specifics of their work demands, thereby making it more challenging for first responders to seek services, as opposed to having a member of their in-house staff providing mental health support; as is the case for large organizations like Toronto Emergency Medical Services and Toronto Police Service. This aids matters as these mental health supports are likely to be more comfortable with the intricacies of that line of work and individuals may be at greater ease to open up with internal staff, especially if these professionals are promoting preventative programs in the workplace.
Given these challenges regarding support services for Canada’s first responders, we as a society, need to address the stigma around help-seeking behaviour and mental health, so that these individuals are aware that is acceptable to access the necessary assistance, especially to manage issues that may arise as a direct result of the traumatic work that they engage in for the sake of the public.