Food for thought on Mental Health Injury by Ken McLeish
Virtually all of us who have chosen a first responder vocational path have done so because we have witnessed the successful actions of a service oriented professional, have been raised in empathetic families or have followed a desire to make a difference in the community where we live.
Mental Health Injury is an insidious and devastating injury changing the individual’s life in every way imaginable. Throughout my years as a paramedic I represented countless paramedics with health and wellness injuries; the most challenging were unequivocally associated with mental health stress reactions to situations occurring out of and in the course of their duties resulting in permanent disability.
It has been estimated that 24% of all first responders suffer from PTSD.
In recent years we have seen statistical leaps in suicidal completions in paramedics, firefighters, peace offers, emergency dispatchers and other related community support workers.
This unquestionably deserves the attention of the employer and the support services that are assume to be available. These terrible losses have occurred in relatively new workers,
seasoned active workers, as well as those in retirement. Post traumatic stress disorder knows no boundaries.
What we see, what we do, what we are aware of, and what we do about it are the most
important considerations of our livelihoods. All of us come from different places with different presets loaded into the foundation of our emotional resiliency.
A psychological trigger for one individual is most often quite different for another.
A first responder suffering from post traumatic stress disorder is usually in denial before it is evident that something is very wrong. By the time the person understands the issues and seeks help they often have lost that professional vitality that was initially enjoyed.
They have lost their ability to perform and their judgement to be effective at work or at home. Families fail. A career is lost along with self respect and the ability to thrive.
One of the most unfortunate issues associated with work related mental health injury is the attitude of those we work with. With the self perceived shame the injured worker feels comes ridicule, isolation and harassment as those around them actively ignore what they do not understand.
I suspect much of that activity is fear based on what they do not understand about
themselves and their own well being. A first responder in trouble needs to be validated and recognized. No stones should be thrown as you never know if you might be next.
The optimistic view of this injury is that, if detected early and treated appropriately by an
informed health care professional, there is a good chance that life will be whole again with the support of family, friends and coworkers.
Stay well. Be a first responder to those you work with and around. Please share this as you see fit.
We need to see things change.
For the sake of those coming into service now from behind this member of the old-guard:
Those who haven't made it through psychologically unscathed need to see now a response that promises towards this issue that things will finally change.
We want you all to stay safe. Self-Care is far too often overlooked.
Consider this a duty, working together to enact such change.
Serve with honour, and leave not one psychologically injured first responder behind.
Always, every shift remember:
"There but for the grace . . . . .."
Ken McLeish is a retired workers advocate and former paramedic with the British Columbia Ambulance Service now living a quiet life with his wife Audrey along the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia Canada.
Ken's Kayak and his pooches are always for Ken close by.
Thank you Ken for your service. Enjoy your retirement.
Be Well and please, always . . . . . .
Mind How You Go.
Please Join Our Campaign Calling on the Government of British Columbia to provide "Presumption of Illness" for PTSD as a provision granted BC First Responders under the Workers Compensation Act.
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.
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