New mental health support launched for Saskatchewan’s first responders

New resources include confidential support lines and self-assessments

Regina, SK – Workplace mental health claims continue to rise in Saskatchewan and due to the nature of their work, first responders are at a higher risk of mental health injuries. One step in addressing mental health in the workplace is WorkSafe’s partnership with the Saskatchewan First Responders’ Mental Health Committee to provide mental health resources for first responders, their families, friends and coworkers. Today, in Regina, WorkSafe Saskatchewan and the Committee unveiled the new resources.

A 2017 Canadian Journal of Psychiatry survey indicated that of 5,813 first responders surveyed, almost 45 per cent screened positive for symptoms consistent with an operational stress injury. This is four times higher than the rate of mental injury in the general population, which is 10 per cent according to Statistics Canada.

“Given the nature of their profession, first responders are often exposed to traumatic or stressful events. This can often lead to serious psychological injuries,” said Kevin Mooney, Interim Vice-President, Prevention and Employer Services with the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB). “We want to improve access to mental health resources for first responders. Our goal is to provide proactive support and reduce the severity of psychological injuries among first responders in Saskatchewan.”

Resources available include phone numbers for 24/7 confidential crisis support centres and several organizations and peer support groups dedicated to supporting first responders and their families with mental health challenges. This allows individuals to reach out for the support they need. These various support groups provide a secure and confidential forum for peers. Other resources available include self-care education and critical incident response strategies. The resources can be found at saskfirstrespondersmentalhealth.ca.

The Saskatchewan First Responders’ Mental Health Committee partnered with Dr. R. Nicholas Carleton, Professor of Psychology and Scientific Director for the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment at the University of Regina, to provide anonymous self-assessment tools. These tools allow first responders to take a personal mental health check to see how they’re managing with the stress and pressure of work and then direct first responders to supportive resources.

“These assessments are intended to educate first responders and help them identify symptoms of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, or post-traumatic stress injuries,” said Carleton. “While an accurate diagnosis can only be made by a qualified mental health professional, the anonymous screening tools can help let you know if you should consider speaking with a health care professional for additional help.”

Paul Hills, President of the Saskatoon Paramedic Association, has firsthand knowledge of the impact that repeated exposure to stressful events can have on first responders.

“In my experience, having someone to share your feelings and experiences with is beneficial for mental health support,” said Hills. “When you have people to talk to, and when you realize there are like-minded professionals who may have experienced similar traumatic incidents, it helps bring people out of the shadows so they can have the support they need for long-term health.”

Kim Lorman, Critical Incident Stress Management Co-Ordinator with Correctional Service Canada, said having mental health support for first responders and their families is essential for improving resilience.

“Being exposed to a traumatic critical incident or accumulative trauma stress that is outside the usual range of human experience, on a daily basis, can affect one’s ability to cope with the after-effects of critical incident stress,” said Lorman. “We all have our normal resiliencies that take time, but when it becomes too complex to see through, it is good to know that this initiative provides a cross discipline community that offers the frontline and their families a toolbox of solid support through affective recognition tools, resiliency tools and resources 24/7.”

According to Saskatchewan WCB data, exposure to traumatic/stressful events was a common cause of serious injury among first responders in cities, towns, villages and rural municipalities. These events were in the top five industries for serious injuries from 2010 to 2017.

In 2018, partners around the province came together to address the issue of workplace mental health. In late November 2018, the Saskatchewan First Responders Mental Health Committee formed. The committee consists of Saskatchewan representatives from fire, police, EMS, health care, corrections, psychologists and the WCB. The goal of the committee is to determine best practices for supporting mental health in first responders. WorkSafe Saskatchewan partnered with WorkSafe B.C. and the B.C. First Responders’ Mental Health Committee to utilize mental health materials for Saskatchewan first responders.

“You never know when a mental health issue like post-traumatic stress injury is going to hit. After years of being exposed to traumatic and stressful incidents, we are only human. We can only handle so much,” said Jeff Reeder, Co-Chair of the Saskatchewan First Responders’ Mental Health Committee and President of the Prince Albert Firefighters Association. “The impact of being exposed to stressful events doesn’t go away when you go home at the end of your shift. It can seriously affect you for years. This is why it’s so important for first responders to have easy access to mental health resources and support to get the help they need 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Saskatchewan Professional Fire Fighters Association (SPFFA) Vice-President Morley Desmarais agreed and suggested that the new resources are a good first step in addressing the growing number of workplace mental health claims.

“This is a good way to provide support for first responders. Our first responders often face circumstances that have a lasting impact on their psyche,” he said. “This resource is a way for them to self-assess to make sure they are doing ok with what they are faced with on a daily basis.”

Evan Bray, Regina’s Chief of Police, recognizes the hazards of mental health injuries based on the types of incidents that first responders encounter in their daily work.

“As first responders, we face great risks while performing our regular duties. These complex and critical situations can take a significant toll on a person,” said Bray. “We can heal from stress injuries on the job, but it takes time and effort. Tools, resources and programs to support mental health are essential.”

Access the new first responder mental health resources at saskfirstrespondersmentalhealth.ca.

 

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For more information, please contact:

Lisa Goudy, Information Officer, Communications
Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board
Phone: 306.787.6714     Cell: 306.533.9746
Email: lgoudy@wcbsask.com