Mental health resources now only a click away for B.C.’s stressed first responders

A new mental health directory specifically geared to B.C.’s first responders launched this week for those who need help to deal with the stresses of their work.

The directory features 150 specially trained mental health professionals across the province. The directory is open to the public, meaning spouses and children of first responders can also access the resource.

Matt Johnston, a firefighter and registered clinical counsellor based in Surrey, B.C., says the service is sorely needed.

“We are at a crisis [level] right across Canada, and these rates of psychological stressors are highest on the West Coast,” Johnston told Gloria Macarenko, the host of CBC’s On The Coast.

According to the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association, a 2017 study showed 44.5 per cent of first responders surveyed struggled with symptoms consistent with one or more psychological disorders. The general population rate is around 10 per cent.

Johnston said it’s not just stressors from the difficult life-and-death scenarios first responders face on the job, but daily struggles like the cost of living, relationships and struggles with parenting.

“Unfortunately, many of us in the first responder world wait until we’re in a crisis to call and to reach out,” he said. 


A new online database of specially trained mental health professionals for first responders launched this week in B.C. (Shutterstock)

Specialized training

As part of the database, clinicians were immersed in training classrooms to understand the pressures and culture of firefighting. For example, in one two-day seminar, the clinicians would listen in to the calls coming in on the speakers in a firehall.

“There’s all these different types of stressors where you can’t anticipate or predict the next call you’re going to have,” Johnston said.

“[Listening to the calls] was a real good learning experience, because that way they got familiar with the unique daily routine of being a firefighter.”

Ultimately, Johnston says, the database will serve as part of a bigger mental health strategy which includes training first responders early in their careers to value their mental health and seek help, and educating employers on the importance of extended health benefits and EAP programs. 

Having the directory, he says, will provide first responders a trusted network of clinicians that they can work with throughout their career and enable them to approach retirement in a healthy way, 

The directory can be accessed at www.firstresponderhealth.org/directory

Listen to the segment on CBC’s On The Coast:

A new mental health directory launches for those who need help to deal with the stresses of their work. 7:25

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