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Superior North EMS developing program to protect paramedics mental health

THUNDER BAY -- First responders are tasked with being the stabilizing force in dealing with some of society’s most dangerous and tragic situations.
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(Matt Vis, tbnewswatch.com)

THUNDER BAY -- First responders are tasked with being the stabilizing force in dealing with some of society’s most dangerous and tragic situations.

But for a number of those first responders, the impacts of seeing the people they’re helping in the worst moments of their lives can lead to dark consequences.

Superior North EMS Chief Norm Gale said mental wellness concerns, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, can affect all first responders and be either as a result of a singular dramatic event or an accumulation over a career.

It is a particular concern for paramedics, where a patient’s life can hang in the balance.

“Canadian evidence indicates paramedics as a profession is more affected by PTSD than any other profession,” he said.

“First responders see good people in very difficult circumstances, not at their best. Tragic, unfortunate things happen to these people and first responders are the first to deal with it with an obligation to try to help.”

Last summer there were 13 known suicides by first responders in Canada during a 10 week period. The suicide of an Alberta paramedic in January was the 34th case in the country since April 2014.

Those staggering numbers have prompted governments to start looking at whether those tasked with encountering tragic and traumatic scenarios are properly equipped to manage the stress and have access to the resources to seek help.

Superior North EMS is currently working to develop a program with the city and mental health experts to address and prevent issues for their 170 paramedics across the region.

That program is being developed alongside the paramedics, using their input as well as scientific evidence and best health practices. Measures taken by employers in other high-stress fields, such as the police and military, are being examined as well.

Gale said the goal is to protect the well-being of the members to ensure they have successful lives not only on the job but away from it as well.

“We certainly have paramedics today who have mental wellness concerns. This is not unusual and we are working with those paramedics in a progressive fashion to help preserve their mental wellness but to ensure they have long and productive careers helping other people,” he said