As the mental health of first responders has come to the forefront as an urgent issue, the British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters Association (BCPFFA) is working with other first responder agencies and the province on a series of initiatives to give members and those who care for them the best tools available.
In 2015, the BCPFFA created a Mental Health Task Force to gather information, seek avenues for help and bring together fire fighters from across the province. “Quite frankly, we were struggling and needed to have a better understanding of what we as a profession could do in bettering ourselves,” says BCPFFA President Gord Ditchburn.
The BCPFFA partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association to assist in delivering a train-the-trainer model of resilient minds across the province and was an active partner in the British Columbia First Responders Mental Health Committee, supported and chaired by WorkSafeBC, the province’s workplace health and safety agency.
Out of this committee came an anti-stigma campaign that urges members of public safety professions to “share it, don’t wear it.” Resources are available at BCFirstRespondersMentalHealth.com, a website advertised through responder-specific posters that includes agencies can download and post in their workplaces, as well as self-assessment tools, ways to help someone who is experiencing mental stress, a guide on how to make a mental health claim and links to other resources.
Trudi Rondou, senior manager of program development and services at WorkSafeBC and chair of the First Responders Mental Health Committee, says breaking down the stigma attached to mental health challenges is a critical ingredient in helping British Columbia’s first responder community.
“We really hope the campaign inspires leaders and first responders alike to break down professional and social barriers to positive mental health.”
The BCPFFA, in partnership with The Men’s Initiative at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine, also developed the BC First Responder Resiliency Program (FRRP). Led by Dr. Duncan Shields and Dr. David Kuhl, the program is aimed at promoting mental health awareness and giving participants the tools they need to manage their own personal issues and assist them in becoming advocates within their own agencies. “We know we’ve made a difference in the lives of fire fighters; we’ve literally saved brothers and sisters from taking their own lives,” Ditchburn says.
The BCPFFA recognized that members are struggling to find certified counsellors and clinicians who understand fire fighters and initiated a program to bring the sides together. Working with Matt Johnson, a Surrey Local 1271 member and registered clinical counsellor, the BCPFFA developed the Occupational Awareness Training for Therapists program.
Ditchburn says the mental health initiatives have been very well received by members across the province. “It’s really designed to give first responders the tools necessary for self-care, to find help when they need it, and to know that they are never alone,” he says. “We see our members in crisis and we’re doing our very best to ensure that our people are going home safe to their families, both physically and mentally.”