(File Photo - Black Press Media)

(File Photo - Black Press Media)

Local first responders talk stress, debriefing

‘Like anyone dealing with trauma, we are just like them’

A recent look at the stress experienced by the province’s first responders is drawing a stark conclusion – that emergency response personnel have far fewer resources than they need.

When local RCMP responds to an event such as a death or an accident, officers are likely to check on each other, according to Staff Sgt. Svend Nielsen of the 100 Mile RCMP Detachment. This is followed by a critical instance group debriefing, which may include a psychologist or psychiatrist to run the meeting.

Nielsen said if additional support is needed beyond what the local detachment can offer, most members will travel outside of the community.

“We see things that people generally don’t want to see or expect to see,” said Nielsen, who’s been with the RCMP for 16 years. Police officers are known to have a high level of functioning and mental toughness, but they are still very much human. “Like anyone dealing with trauma, we are just like them.”

In April, the federal government unveiled a $40-million action plan to address post-traumatic stress injuries among emergency responders and other front-line personnel.

“While safety personnel work in multiple jurisdictions, each with their own responsibilities for providing mental health supports to their personnel, there is a clear need for national leadership on the challenges they all face,” said Zarah Malik, the spokesperson for Public Safety Canada in an email. “The Action Plan is an important step in a long-term approach to address these issues.”

Half of the funding is being split between a pilot program providing online access to cognitive behavioural therapy and a 10-year study on the mental wellness of new RCMP recruits.

“The government recognizes that public safety personnel in rural communities may face additional difficulties receiving the care they require in comparison to those in urban communities,” said Malik. The pilot is looking to provide greater access to care for personnel in rural areas.

The other half is supporting a national research consortium involving the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment.

“There is an idea that first responders deal with things differently than the general public, which I would think is true to a certain extent, considering our training and the experiences we’ve had, but it is still difficult,” said Nielsen.

More than a decade in the fire service has led to many traumatic events for Fire Chief Roger Hollander of 100 Mile Fire Rescue. He said there is no timeline for a post-traumatic stress illness. Training or years of experience make injuries and death routine occurrences, but one traumatic event can drastically change how the mind works.

“There have been a few people who’ve left the department because they got to a point where they started having nightmares or uncertainty about moving forward,” said Hollander. “They were able to recognize it before it became too much.”

Research suggests there is a stigma associated with being a helper who asks for help. It has become prevalent in front-line organizations and can be a significant barrier to seeking help when it is needed.

“As a police officer, talking about stuff to other people is difficult because it can involve a criminal case or an on-going investigation. That is why we have a peer-to-peer program and workplace advisors,” said Nielsen.

But beyond in-house services, Nielsen talked about finding something that helps to work through harder-than-expected days. For him, it’s talking to his wife.

“I will go home and express how I am feeling,” said Nielsen. “I have gone home and wept at the feet of my wife. It’s difficult to rehash those feelings but that is my process.”

“We need to talk about it”

Read more: Cariboo-Chilcotin representatives attending first responders mental health conference in Richmond


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes shared this photo of the binders and binders of letters and paperwork she’s received on area roads in the past few years. (Submitted photo)
Cariboo MLAs call on province to fix region’s roads

Minister Rob Fleming said more resources were on the way to the region

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

Murray Casey, president of the Stemete7uw’i Friendship Centre, hosted an online Shuswap language workshop April 27. (Melissa Smalley photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
‘Weyt-k’? It’s time to learn Shuswap

More than two dozen participants took part in online class to learn basic Secwepemc phrases

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Junior A team Coquitlam Express is offering all Tri-City residents who get vaccinated against COVID-19 a free ticket to one of their games. (Facebook/Coquitlam Express)
B.C. hockey team offering free tickets to hometown fans who get the COVID-19 vaccine

‘We know the only way to get fans back is people getting vaccinated,’ says Express’ general manager Tali Campbell

Most Read