National survey finds mental disorder symptoms among public safety personnel
|globalnews.ca 29 Aug 2017 at 20:39|
A national study published in on the mental health of public safety personnel found almost half of respondents screened positive for symptoms consistent with mental disorders.
The University of Regina-led survey was designed to analyze the scope and magnitude of mental health symptoms reported by Canadian public safety personnel, including correctional workers, call centre operators, dispatchers, firefighters, paramedics and police.
Of the 5,813 male and female respondents, 44 per cent said they had symptoms relating to mental health disorders.
Some of those symptoms include panic, anxiety, alcohol abuse, depressive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“What we’ve been able to do in this case is to provide an estimate using self-report measures, and they’re well validated self-report measures but it is an estimate,” University of Regina psychology professor and author Nick Carleton said.
Carleton said the next step would be to conduct a Statistics Canada epidemiology survey which would include interviews and include diagnoses.
“People would engage in interviews, wherein the sampling would be done across the country with respect to public safety personnel,” Carleton said.
“That way we would have an even stronger basis with which to provide estimates of mental health disorders.”
For public safety personnel, the numbers aren’t surprising. Stress is part and parcel of the job.
“Those stressors are always there. We know that as first responders, they’ll be exposed to a traumatic incident 100 per cent of the time,” Regina Professional Fire Fighters Association president Kevin Tetlow said.
“In our job, we see things that we can’t unsee. We smell or hear things that we can’t pretend didn’t happen,” he said.
Tetlow was a firefighter in Regina for 31 years. He retired as a captain and said certain smells used to bring back difficult memories.
“For a period of time, there were certain smells that would remind me of certain incidents I’ve been to, so I can relate to that,” he said.
At the Regina Police Service, Sgt. Colleen Hall of the Police and Crisis Team (PACT) said there are more resources now than ever for mental health but more conversation and greater awareness is needed.
“Whenever you’re dealing with something in crisis or someone that’s experiencing a trauma, some people will take that on to their own realm sort of thing, and reflect on it and sometimes it can be damaging,” she said.
Hall said there are numerous mental health services members can seek out at the Regina Police Service. They include counseling, wellness coordination services, and Chaplaincy services among others.
“It might not be one single event that causes you stress or injury but it can be cumulative and when it becomes more acute and chronic… [at that stage] the person should seek help,” Hall.
But the tide is changing. Hall said more and more people are open to the idea about talking about their feelings and day-to-day struggles.
“Officers are more willing to talk about it. Even sometimes we talk about it in a joking way because sometimes that’s how we get through the day, is through humour,” Hall said.
“But sometimes in that humour, we can relay a care or concern for somebody… just the peer support and being able to change the language, all the national strategies have helped,” she said.
“We’ve launched a mission to help people understand their own mental health and we will continue to.”