I’ve talked about PTSD in previous posts, but because of recent events of PTSD suicides within the group of first responders, I am going to talk about it again. And keep talking about it. The more we talk, we slowly lessen the stigma in hopes people will be more likely to get help and come forward with their mental illness before it claims their life.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a disorder characterized by re-living a psychologically traumatic situation. It can develop following a traumatic situation that threatens your safety and makes you feel helpless. Anything from rape, assault, on the job incidents, natural disasters, divorce etc. can cause PTSD.
PTSD symptoms can be put into 3 categories.
1. Re-experiencing symptoms
a) bad dreams
b) frightening thoughts
2. Avoidance symptoms
a) staying away from things that are reminders of the experience
b) feeling emotionally numb
c) feeling strong depression and/or anxiety
d) losing interest in activities
e) memory loss of the dangerous event
3. Hyperarousal symptoms
a) being easily startled
b) feeling tense or “on edge”
c) Having difficulty sleeping and/or angry outbursts
Currently within the RCMP there are a few resources that can be utilized. All employees and their dependants can access EAS (Employee Assistance Services). EAS provides 8 hours of counseling to an employee or their dependants. There are no limits to topics within the therapy sessions.
There is also the peer-to-peer program through EAS. All RCMP employees can access this program. It provides them with an internal coordinator that assists the employee with services offered through EAS.
There are currently 11 RCMP Occupational Health and Safety offices around Canada that are available to members. The staff at the OH&S offices include medical doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, safety officers, disability case managers, return to work facilitators, and duty to accommodate coordinators.
Members also have access to mental health workers through their benefits program. Referring to the website, here is a list of what they are covered for:
- An eligible member is covered for personal or group counseling by an approved psychologist without a referral or authorization for a maximum of six hours followed by a further six hours when preauthorized by the divisional psychologist per calendar year.
- An eligible member is covered for couple or family counseling by an approved psychologist without a referral or authorization for a maximum of six hours followed by a further six hours when pre-authorized by the regional or divisional psychologist per calendar year.
- An eligible member and his/her dependants may receive further couple or family treatments if preauthorized under the occupational health care level for work-related factors such as when the member is diagnosed with an OSI.
Though these services are available, there are still frequent first responder suicides that are PTSD related. Although each situation is unique, there is something very wrong with what is happening. There needs to be more.
The #1 reason people don’t come forward with PTSD is stigma. First responders are taught to be tough. Society teaches them that they shouldn’t be emotional. They shouldn’t react negatively to difficult situations on the job. They should be able to handle it. Well, society is wrong. First responders are still human beings with feelings and emotions and the ability to be affected by hard situations in life, whether it be personal or on the job. The pressure to be tough can literally kill.
So what happens when a member decides to get help. What happens when they admit there is a problem. From the stories I have heard from spouses and the data I have collected for this post, there are not enough resources and there is not enough follow-up.
Yes we can send them to see a therapist for 8 free sessions. We can sign them up for a peer to peer coordinator. Yes we can make sure they get their assessment every 3 years. But is that enough?
These men and women have dedicated their lives to serving our communities and doing the life threatening work that many of us wouldn’t even think of doing. The least the RCMP as a whole can do is try their absolute best to conquer the stigma, and develop more systems to actively and continuously support our members.