A local plan to support police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other front-line workers who may be affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was presented to the Ontario Ministry of Labour last month, according to the Carleton Place director of protective services, Les Reynolds.
Reynolds told the May 2 meeting of the town’s planning and protection committee that a number of Lanark County municipalities submitted similar plans to comply with last year’s provincial legislation, the Supporting First Responders Act. The law presumes that PTSD diagnoses among certain high-stress professions would be work-related, and therefore subject to worker compensation benefits and treatments.
The local plan was put together in consultation with county-wide fire services and a critical incident and stress counsellor, Reynolds said. “It’s an issue that crosses department lines, and one of the most effective parts of a prevention strategy is establishing a peer support team. If a firefighter has something bothering him or her and wants to speak to another firefighter, they don’t have to speak to someone in their own department. Everyone would acknowledge that sometimes the boss isn’t the person you want to go and talk to if you’re struggling.”
Reynolds anticipates the provincial ministry will approve his plan, which he describes as a living document that will continue to evolve based on direct experience. He predicts that within the next few weeks, discussions with first responders on next steps will ensue, including a focus on training to recognize the signs of mental health issues amongst themselves and their colleagues, developing peer support teams, and establishing pathways to counselling.
“As an aside, nurses should be included in this,” Reynolds added, referencing his own wife, a long-time health care practitioner. “What nurses, paramedics, firefighters and police officers see is what most people don’t have to or wouldn’t want to. Once you see it you can’t unsee it. You think you’ve dealt with it, and 20 years later all of a sudden it’s causing you grief.”
The province’s decision not to include nurses in the law drew angry criticism from the Ontario Nurses’ Association, which is trying to have their profession recognized in federal PTSD legislation currently under consideration by Parliament.
“It’s a growing issue. Mental health challenges touch every single family in this country, and we need to talk about it,” Reynolds said, noting he read a recent article asking how concerns about suffering PTSD may well affect recruitment into front-line, first-responder positions. “One of the things we’re going to have to do with potential recruits is talk to them and their families to let them know this may be an issue. How many people are out there walking around after they served 10 or 15 years as a volunteer firefighter and then walked in one day and said, ‘I’m done’ And everybody assumed it was because they were tired or they had other commitments, but how many of left because of [PTSD]?”