Across our country, thousands of first responders are struggling, often in silence, with what their jobs require them to confront: the death of a colleague, gruesome violence, horrific traffic collisions, overwrought relatives, and suicides in progress. After witnessing these events is not uncommon for constables to report partial post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. PTSD is a condition that afflicts individuals who have sustained a profoundly shocking or traumatic experience, and then continue to suffer a range of symptoms – including flashbacks, extreme anxiety, depression, outbursts of rage, and hyper-vigilance – often, long after the fact.
This operational stress injury extends past first responders, and sometimes people who work on a tragic incident second hand will suffer symptoms. Many dispatchers, family members of constables, and civilian employees working in police departments will require support for their mental health.
To address this need, the New Westminster Police Department created a dedicated mental health intervention position in May of 2013. In addition to providing real-time support to officers responding to in-progress crisis related calls, the Mental Health Officer has been delivering mental wellness initiatives to the department. The work of the Mental Health Unit reduces mental health stigma, encourages individuals to seek care, and provides New Westminster Police Department members and civilian staff a better understanding of what they can do to assist one another.
Residents who want to support the mental health of first responders can support both local and national organizations. Locally Honour House supports first responders and their family members by providing free accommodation while they receive medical care and recuperate. Those wanting to learn more about Honour House can visit honourhouse.ca
On a national level there is the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, a Toronto-based charity also known as Heroes Are Human, offers peer-support, family assistance, and training for first responders and military dealing with PTSD. More information is available at tema.ca