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P.E.I. firefighters learning to talk about issues of mental health due to the stresses of their work

Cindy MacFadyen, fire prevention officer for the City of Charlottetown; Steve Desroches, veteran firefighter with the Summerside Fire Department; Bruce Brown, incident safety officer with the East River Fire Company; Winston Bryan, fire inspector with the City of Charlottetown; and Capt. Ron Enman with the Summerside Fire Department are pleased to be able to roll out a program to Island firefighters that teaches them about the importance of understanding mental health. KATIE SMITH/THE GUARDIAN
Cindy MacFadyen, fire prevention officer for the City of Charlottetown; Steve Desroches, veteran firefighter with the Summerside Fire Department; Bruce Brown, incident safety officer with the East River Fire Company; Winston Bryan, fire inspector with the City of Charlottetown; and Capt. Ron Enman with the Summerside Fire Department are pleased to be able to roll out a program to Island firefighters that teaches them about the importance of understanding mental health. KATIE SMITH/THE GUARDIAN

When it comes to high stress careers, ensuring a healthy mental well-being is of importance.

Thanks to a program adapted from British Columbia, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), in partnership with several fire departments across the Island, is rolling out a resiliency program for firefighters.

Developed through a partnership between the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service and CMHA-BC Vancouver-Fraser Branch, Resilient Minds – Building the Psychological Strength of Fire Fighters is a skill-building program that addresses the need for education on psychological trauma, mental health problems, and building resiliency.

Amanda Brazil, director of program and policy at CMHA-P.E.I., said in September that trainers were brought in from B.C. to train some firefighter facilitators here on the Island, including representatives from the Charlottetown Fire Department, the Summerside Fire Department, the East River Fire Company, the Crossroads Fire Departments and firefighters from Parks Canada.

At a meeting at the CMHA-P.E.I. office in Charlottetown on Dec. 8., Brazil said she was pleased that nine members from those branches took the time to educate themselves on the issues surrounding mental health, and said in order to get this program rolled out Island-wide, it will take such leadership.

“If it’s not recognized by leadership that this is a priority or that this is important, that's going to trickle down to the membership.  We need our leadership to buy in.”

Cindy MacFadyen, fire prevention officer with the City of Charlottetown, said this program, which teaches the necessary tools to recognize and address mental issues, opens up an avenue of communication around mental health that doesn’t currently exist.

“This program is finally giving firefighters permission to talk about it, which they haven’t been allowed,” she said. “You wouldn’t dare mention that you laid on the couch for two weeks after a call, you just wouldn’t. But this will allow that.”

Steve Desroches, a seasoned Summerside firefighter, said he learned a lot when he took the course.

He said when he joined years ago, the new recruits were more concerned about their physical well-being, but didn’t give much thought to their mental well-being.

“To be honest with you, I was kind of old school like that. I thought more that I had to be in shape and never gave a lot of thought to my mental health until I took this course. There’s things in here that stuck in my head that are very important and I can see them being used.”

As for local support, Brazil said the provincial government didn’t want to see a department or an individual not be able to take the course because they couldn’t cover the cost.

“We’ve got a verbal commitment that they will cover the cost of participant manuals. It’s something. This is just the beginning.”

5 facts about stress

1 - Stress is a normal reaction to the physical and mental demands placed on a person. When under stress their brain reacts by providing a quick burst of hormones, endorphins, and neurotransmitters all designed to help the body function more efficiently, but can become harmful when it is prolonged.

2 - Chronic stress has been linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression, and a number of physical ailments. Traumatic stress can result in the development of an acute stress reaction or post-traumatic stress disorder.

3 - Based on studies currently available it is estimated that the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder in first responders is 15-25 per cent, with possibly another 15-25 per cent meeting the criteria for partial post-traumatic stress disorder.

4 - Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological disorder that can develop in some people after being exposed to either a single or multiple traumatic events.

5 - There are a number of different warning signs, including changes in behaviour, changes in mood, and statements that someone might make. Factors like job loss or divorce can also increase the risk of someone having a crisis or attempting suicide.

SOURCE: ems1.com

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