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Ontario Government Addresses PTSD Among First Responders

Jul 13
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can arise following the experience or witnessing of a disturbing or distressing event. People who suffer from PTSD can experience mental, emotional, and physical stresses that become highly debilitating and impair the person’s ability to function in social or family life.

Among Canadians, the prevalence of PTSD is about 10% Canadians over the course of their lifetime. Across Canadian First-Responders, this rate doubles to 22% (Center for Suicide Prevention, 2015). This year alone, Canada has seen 8 tragic deaths across first-responders. Four paramedics and four police officers have died of suicide across Canada – and these are the ones we know about.

In April 2016, The Ontario Government responded by amending the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 with Bill-163 (Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act, 2016). The bill recognizes that first responders and other workers can develop PTSD during their employment and entitles them to benefits under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act. In promptly addressing PTSD and care for first responders, the bill covers fire fighters, fire investigators, police officers, paramedics, emergency medical attendants, and workers in correctional institutions.  

People working in healthcare and first response environments often face significant stigma about their own health. While supportive of first responders, Bill-163 has left nurses and social workers behind in the fight against PTSD in the workplace. Nurses put themselves at risk across all health sectors. They are witnesses and may experience trauma and physical violence in the workplace. They play a vital role in responding to emergency codes in their organizations and in collaborating with law enforcement.

Supporting first responders by taking down barriers for mental health care is an important first step in addressing mental health concerns in the workplace. Individuals with PTSD can go on to develop comorbidities with other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. If left untreated, these mental health issues change the brain chemistry and can cause permanent physical damage to brain function. First responders and healthcare workers need to be supported from the point they begin working. A preventative approach to addressing mental health can help with early identification and break down mental health stigma in the workplace.

The passing of Bill-163 is a great stride forward in addressing mental health in the workplace for first responders. Initiatives are already being taken by first responder organizations as a result of this proactive approach to PTSD among first responders. Next steps are to provide quality, comprehensive support for first responders and healthcare providers using evidence-based best practices so that individuals are empowered to break down barriers and take leadership with their own mental wellness.

Centre for Suicide Prevention, 2015. First Responders Trauma Intervention and Suicide Prevention. Retrieved from: https://suicideinfo.ca/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=GOVCrKR11fQ%3D&tabid=516
Bill 163, Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act, 2016. http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&Intranet=&BillID=3713

Kathleen Qu, M.Sc

Kathleen Qu is the Product Manager of FeelingBetterNow. She has a background in global health and policy research. She is an advocate in breaking down barriers for mental health access.