Public Safety professionals are exposed to potential psychologically traumatizing events on the job every day. Workers in this industry see horrific scenes involving injury or death to their fellow man. Some may face a life-threatening event on the job, involving violence or the use of fire-arms. The potential for psychological trauma in these professions should therefore be expected, and all measures of support should be granted, without question, to Public Safety Professionals and to the agencies that employ them.
It's estimated that through the course of human life, each of us will experience at least a single traumatic event. The most common sources of trauma in the civilian population include witnessing someone being badly injured or killed; being involved in a fire, flood or natural disaster; or being involved in a life-threatening accident. For most, resolution of such trauma will come naturally; however, an estimated 8% of persons who experience psychological trauma will go on to develop mental health disorders, the most common of which is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Carleton, 2014).
It's now accepted that soldiers who've experienced the traumatic stress of combat will develop this condition. In the United States alone estimates suggest that of the 2.7 million veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan, over 500,000 will have PTSD as a consequence of their service (Veterans and PTSD). Estimates of prevalence of PTSD in the general population worldwide are conservatively set at 8%. In Public Safety Professions, prevalence of PTSD is determined to be 20-30% above the general population, a significant number (Carleton, 2014).
Currently in North America, acceptance of this consequence in Public Safety is fragmented at best. Although change is starting to move in agencies who employ this group of professionals, much still needs to be done. There are clear necessities that need to come to fruition for these workers and their families. Should traumatic events in this workforce be mishandled, and PTSD develops, this can impose an end of career and life-long disability on a worker and on her family.
First of all, what's needed is education. Many Public Safety workers report very limited training in regards to traumatic events on the job. Few agencies have developed formalized education initiatives. Policies and Procedures as to what to do when one has experienced a trauma on the job are reported to be lacking as well. So, the first things needed to better protect the well-being of these workers is quality education, and policies within organizations that reflect a full appreciation of the necessity to provide trauma-informed care.
Secondly, should a traumatic event on the job in this workforce lead to an onset of PTSD, workers need the full support of both their employer and their peers. Any mental health condition in North American society comes with a mark of stigma. Stigmatization leads many who may suffer psychological injury to not seek any form of helpful treatment at all. Given that this culture of stigma is quite evident in Public Safety Professions and Organizations, anti-stigma campaigns need to be included in any education initiatives brought forth to deal appropriately with this issue.
Many workers who are psychologically injured due to trauma report abandonment by both their employer and their peers. Some say that this betrayal is more damaging than the initial trauma itself, adding insult to injury, making recovery that much more difficult to achieve. It's important that this profession finds way to break down the barriers that such a culture of stigma can erect.
Finally, key to recovery from trauma in Public Safety Professionals is the receipt of appropriate treatments. There are now some quality studies from military sources to support a variety of treatment modalities. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, delivered by trauma-informed clinicians, is the most studied and accepted mode of available treatments. Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is another (Treatment of PTSD: National Center for PTSD).
The list of alternatives is actually quite vast, and given that each worker will respond to treatment differently, it's important to make available as many options as possible. Trauma and PTSD take specialized provisions of care. Regardless of delivered modality, it's therefore important that any care-provider is certified to practice and deliver fully trauma-informed services. There are biological, psychological, and social influences that lead to PTSD developing following exposure to trauma on the job. It's therefore warranted that any such care be holistic, utilizing a Bio-Psycho-Social model in provision of appropriate supports (Dogar, 2007).
Traumatic experiences and potential consequences to the mental well-being of Public Safety Professionals are highly prevalent in the work. Due to lack of education and the prevalence as well of stigma, many who experience trauma in the course of employment will develop PTSD, and some who are injured to this extent will never seek treatment. Such issues in this workforce should be expected.
Those who employ these workers need to therefore provide appropriate education, anti-stigma campaigns, and treatment supports, without question, for these workers. These professionals are there for us, often in our own darkest hours of human need.
It's time we step up in society and address this issue by encouraging employers, and our Governments, both Provincially and Federally in Canada, to better support the evident need.
These workers are there for all of us. Perhaps it's time we make necessary supports immediately available to them.
Veterans Statistics: PTSD, Depression, TBI, Suicide. (2015, November 25). In Veterans and PTSD. Retrieved, November 25th, 2015, from: http://www.veteransandptsd.com/PTSD-statistics.html
Facts About PTSD by National Center for PTSD. (2015, November 25). In PsychCentral. Retrieved, November 25th, 2015, from: http://psychcentral.com/lib/facts-about-ptsd/
PTSD and First Responders. (2014, August 5). Dr. R. Nicholas Carleton: In The Conference Board of Canada: Hot Topics in Security and Safety. Retrieved, November 25th, 2015, from: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/topics/security-safety/commentaries/14-08-05/ptsd_and_first_responders.aspx
Treatment of PTSD. (2015, November 25). In PTSD: National Center for PTSD. Retrieved, November 25th, 2015, from: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/therapy-med/treatment-ptsd.asp
BioPsychoSocial Model. (2007, January). Dr. Imtiaz Ahmad Dogar In Punjab Med. Review. Retrieved, November 25th, 2015, from: http://applications.emro.who.int/imemrf/Ann_Punjab_Med_Coll/Ann_Punjab_Med_Coll_2007_1_1_11_13.pdf
IN Harms Way: 16 X 9: Global News
Disclaimer: These materials and resources are presented for educational purposes only. They are not a substitute for informed medical advice or training. Do not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified health or mental health care provider. If you have concerns, contact your health care provider, mental health professional, or your community health centre.
Darren Gregory © 2015. All Rights Reserved
Many soldiers experienced psychological trauma as a consequence of war. These experiences of trauma can lead soldiers to develop mental health issues such as depression and post traumatic stress disorder. There remains high-levels of suicide among our war veterans and public safety professionals in Canada.
There is no argument as to the cause of Canada's entry into the war fought in Afghanistan. The events of 9-11 triggered a military response from a number of nations that for most of us now is known as part of our military history. Initially, the Government of Canada stood fast in a position to not involve our military to any great extent in the operations connected with Iraq; however, Afghanistan saw significant entry of our forces into the region which began for the Canadian Military in 2002.
With now three years passed since the mission to Afghanistan officially ended for Canadians, we're starting to appreciate a statistical representation of losses that provides a relative point from which to view a sample of the effects of the war and it's impact on the lives of those Canadians who served.
First of all, service in Afghanistan for Canadian soldiers was obviously a dangerous game. Canada's Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces lists a total contribution to the effort of nearly 40,000 men and women. This was Canada’s largest military deployment since the Second World War.
More Canadians served in Afghanistan than in Korea in the 1950s or the Balkans in the 1990's, making Canada's contribution of soldiers in Afghanistan historically significant in the context of our role as compared to previous conflicts in contemporary history.
In terms of losses and injury the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (a 'left-leaning' think-tank, policy-research institute in the country) reported in September 2006 that of the total numbers of troops that began operations in Kandahar in 2002, Canada had already sustained 43% of all military deaths among U.S. allies in the coalition, at the time the report.
This was a significant variant in terms of losses compared with the guiding nation, the United States. These conservative estimates proposed at the time, when adjusted for the relative size of troop commitments, the report goes on to estimate that:
"A Canadian soldier in Kandahar (at the time of the report) is nearly three times more likely to be killed in hostile action than a British soldier, and four-and-a-half times more likely than an American soldier in Afghanistan... (and) nearly six times more likely to die in hostilities than a U.S. soldier serving in Iraq."
War in any generation comes with consequences. With the official mission to Afghanistan now ended since 2012, we are in Canada today, Remembrance Day 2015, moved to remember all wars of the past. It's important for us to remember too that we today have veterans among us, much closer to us in our current history. The statistics relative to actual losses, including deaths to personnel, and numbers related to non-fatal casualties relative to Canada's military contribution to the conflict in Afghanistan are significant, considering that today we continue to lose Afghanistan Veteran's to suicide.
The war cost the lives of 158 soldiers, one diplomat, one journalist and two civilian contractors directly. This virtual memorial lists nearly 200 soldiers lost in the Afghanistan mission:
In 2014, the Edmonton Sun ran a story speaking to the losses of our military veterans to suicide since our mission in Afghanistan ended:
"There were more suicides in the Canadian Forces since 2002 than combat deaths during Canada's Afghanistan mission, according to a report obtained by QMI Agency.
In the 12 years that Canadians fought in Afghanistan, 158 Armed Forces members were killed. According to records obtained from the Department of National Defence, there were 178 Canadian Forces suicides in the same period."
"Due to standard military practice to issue only the numbers of suicides of full-time male soldiers -- so the military can compare those statistics with the same age in the general population -- previous numbers did not include female soldiers or reservists.
This has allowed the government to state that the suicide rate of a full-time male members of the Armed Forces is no different than that of the average Canadian from a similar demographic."
"I think the problem is much bigger than the numbers show," military lawyer and retired Col. Michel Drapeau said. "Many suicides occur after the person has left the Armed Forces and those numbers aren't included in the totals."
"Often, the ones who have just left the Forces are the most desperate."
"Defence Minister Rob Nicholson has ensured the "Forces have taken great strides in recent years to make sure that more attention is being paid to mental health issues, whether they are deployment related or not," Ministry of National Defence spokesman Johanna Quinney told QMI Agency."
It's estimated that we have at minimum, 9% of returning soldiers who've served in Afghanistan living today with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
It's estimated that 35% of Public Safety Workers will develop PTSD as a consequence of their service.
Tema Conter Memorial Trust in Toronto reports 30 first responders and 8 military members have died by suicide in 2015. Between April 29 and December 31, 2014, 27 first responders died by suicide. In 2014, 19 military personnel died by suicide.
Lest We Forget. . . . .
Be Well. . . . .
Darren Michael Gregory: 11.11.15
The Cree Chief in our company called this place, Estipah-Skikikini-Kots. Not a Cree word, Turnor told me. This was Blackfoot territory. Chief Lame Bull, the Cree, had been granted permission from the Blackfoot Nation to come here, just long enough now before winter, to take what his people needed with a sacred Buffalo Hunt, revered here as spirits, sacred animals that blessed the lives of the band with plenty for a stored cache of winter's meat.
The insects flittering inside the belly like moths in my excitement, were dancing as brilliantly as the ones hanging in swarms around us in the air. These nasty beasts were the first to introduce themselves, settling into this adventure that first day when I stepped first-boot on the flat plains of this new-found land.
“When you've taken on some of your own smoke in your hide, my boy,“ Turnor told me on that first day. “These creatures won't be so striking as to make you feel any real harm.”
He laughed and slapped me on the shoulder, as I swatted and danced myself among the swarms of these flies taking over every square inch of our surrounding air.
After setting camp, the air cooling fast with dusk brewing in the deepening, almost blood-red sky, the Cree gathered around the cone-house next to a growing fire. Lame Bull, our host for the hunt, gathered his band of hunters for tomorrow's run of buffalo.
Seeing these fine young warriors seated proudly around their leader's feet, like young boys with so much reverence in their eyes, was as moving as the fixed stare and awe seen in the eyes our own young men would show towards our Grand-Fathers back home, now so far away across the sea in England.
Lame Bull was obviously a man held in high-respect.
My own men in the company and I kept our distance. This was a spiritual moment, kept sacred for Lame Bull and his band of hunters. We were sure we weren't welcome to sit as yet at Lame Bull's feet, even though he'd not instructed us so. This was unspoken, and with no invitation coming forth, we knew we'd made the right decision to stand-off.
To be invited into the hunt at all was a surprise to the Master's of The Company. Turnor offered the men and I up as though we were part of the earlier trade he'd led between Lame Bull and his band. After sharing the blankets and pots from the small reserve of items available for the trade, Turnor took me firmly by the arm, handing me over to this so revered of what I thought was a savage man almost as a prize.
Turnor was a wise man. He knew we too would be short of meat for the coming winter. Always the opportunist, he was fast to answer a hearty, "Aye" to Lame Bull's request for men.
Turnor told me of the bands plight. They were low in numbers for the hunt, having lost so many to the pox that had invaded his people prior to moving them away from James Bay and onto the plains near the River. Lame Bull wept with telling the story, he said. As he touched my own heart with the tale, Turnor wept as well. He was such a gentle, elder of a man.
Men, women and far too many children had been lost from Lame Bull and his family. I'd not dreamt that these fine people were anything beyond savages. The stories back home that we'd come to know of these people, left us wondering if any would have souls at all, let alone souls deep enough to weep sharing stories of such great loss.
The stories we heard back home in England, pounded into us when we signed up with The Company to serve here, were of bands of these savages murdering our people, especially the French Northwesters, in droves. We were told they indiscriminately charged into our Company Forts as though blood was all they cared to know.
Turnor quickly taught me, he taught me so much on that first day, that these stories of savages were practical lies.
Turnor taught me early on, within the hour of our first meeting, that these exaggerated tales of these near-naked and dark-skinned people were justification stories, meant to grant us a little fear, to keep us all on our own toes, and make right somehow what in our hearts we knew might one day turn out to be so dreadfully wrong.
History, herself, would later need to be that judge.
"We can't take what isn't ours without first making demons of those we've chosen for our enemies. Don't hold those stories in your heart," Turner dictated to me that first day. "These are good people, family people. They love more deeply, I suspect, than even yourself has ever known."
Turnor called the band, Omushkego. The other men told me that on the day they all arrived in the Company camp, Turner embraced Lame Bull, and later the Chiefs family, as if an old friend was stopping in for tea. They'd met when his family first arrived on the plains. Turnor and a few other Company men had already taken their place, setting up camp near the river, gathering all they needed to build up the fort.
All the savages Turner spoke of in the days since my own arrival here told me these people were revered as deeply by Turnor a's Lame Bull's own men looked up to him, sitting there on the night before the hunt, hanging on Lame Bull's every word, gathered like children around the great man's, humble feet..
Once the gathering was done, and all the instructions and prayers were given, the band gathered around the huge fire, now flashing with great brilliance into the darkness of the coming night, the sparks dancing into the air like dragon-flies.
A few in the band had drums, and began pounding a rhythm to match the building pounding of my own heart. The men in the company with me, the white-faces flashing huge, white-eyes in the growing darkness of the night, said they too, the ones who'd been welcomed at such gatherings in the past, felt their own hearts seeming to take on the rhythm with every beating of the drums.
When the chanting started, in the sacred-dance the men began around the fire, the ones not setting the rhythm with the drums began a strange act, as if they were dancing on the stages of London for the crowd of primps, the elites whom I'd once seen when my mother took me to the theatre as a boy. These warriors, on this stage in the night, lowered their heads, dancing in circles around the fire. They'd place their pointing fingers to the sky, resting their hands against the side of their heads in doing so.
This, my compatriot, Thompson told me was, "The dance they do to prepare us all for tomorrow's hunt."
As the night moved slowly on, and my heart pounded with the drums, this young adventurer, fresh afoot on this far away from home new land, couldn't wait. I was bitten. Bitten with a lust for the kill, I thought. They tell me this would soon become a lust calmed, with more reverence for the spirit of the hunt than any of our white-faced company of men could quite adequately explain.
"You have to live it, to believe it", Thompson whispered to me in the night. "The hunt will be the most brilliant thing you've ever seen, my friend."
As the fire began to die, the band left us. Lame Bull and a few of the men crawled into the depths of the cone-house. After the others in the band settled in their places near the fire, came sleep-a hard sleep, like waiting for Christmas morning-the restless sleep of a child.
The true adventure I'd longed for back home in England was about to begin. Living an exploration of someplace now so completely new, I thanked God, before I finally slept.
I thanked Him for the blessing, as Thompson said Lame Bull had done, through a once-thought savage prayer, not all that far removed from my own. I was about to live a blessing-the sanctification of an adventure, wrapped up in an unseen ribbon-the blessing of the hunt.