Emergency workers at higher risk for mental health disorders: survey – Peterborough
An online survey of police, paramedics, firefighters and other emergency workers shows 44.5 per cent are at risk of developing mental health disorders. The survey was conducted by a group of mental health experts from across the country, and its findings published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.
According to Stats Canada, the rate for the general population is 10 per cent. Officials say emergency workers are already at risk to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder so it is not surprising they are also at risk of other mental health problems.
Avoiding long term trauma
The next stage is to crunch the numbers and start to look for solutions. Randy Mellow, chief of paramedics for Peterborough County and the president of Paramedic Chiefs of Canada says the stats show variations in symptoms depending upon the type of emergency work being done.
“We need to understand why that is, why paramedics are a little higher in social anxiety compared to firefighters, what can we find out about the reasoning behind that. Is there something in the way firefighters have time between their calls, to de-escalate that maybe paramedics or police officers don’t?” said Mellow.
Other than the specific emergency work being done, the incidence of mental health disorders among emergency personnel depends on how many resources are available to staff to help deal with a crisis. For several years, the Peterborough Police service has encouraged staff to take advantage of available programs.
For several years, the Peterborough Police Service has encouraged staff to take advantage of available programs.
“Everyone in our organization has had our road to mental readiness program, all members get four hours training and all supervisors get eight hours of training. We also have bolstered our employee assistance program — all of our members can see any psychologist or psychotherapist or social worker they want to see,” says Insp. Larry Charmley.
Suicide rates up for first responders
Mellow says Emergency Services need to support staff with mental health issues throughout their career and into retirement. He notes that it’s just as important to reach out to those intending to take up a career in the field, to teach them the resiliency they will need to deal with the stresses inherent in the job.
Dr. Nick Carleton, with the University of Regina, led the survey and says the online component is a good start in helping emergency workers deal with the stresses of the job.
He says the next step should be face-to-face interviews with workers to try and further define and focus on specific mental health issues.
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