Most mornings I walk with my dog Miller past the coffee shop, and sometimes I see a few ambulances at the corner, the white blocky trucks making impressive outlines against the quiet street. If you’ve ever been in an ambulance, you know how solid they feel. When I rode with someone once, I was struck by the sturdiness, so weighted to the ground as we rolled our way to the hospital. The paramedic sitting with us in the back spoke quietly and calmly.
Through the shop’s big windows I can see the paramedics curled around a couple of tables with coffee cups in front of them. When I glance in they will be talking or laughing, and sometimes I see them in a moment of quiet. I’m glad they have these moments together.
Paramedics, firefighters, staff in hospital emergency departments; they are all having a tough time in BC these days. The overdose crisis in BC is hitting them hard. Death by suicide among first responders in Canada is highest in BC, and the fentanyl crisis is exacerbating the stress on workers.
Recognizing the impact trauma has on workers is essential. Last fall Simon Fraser University launched a trauma prevention and recovery program for first responders. The program helps them recognize signs of stress and trauma and develop some tools to deal with the challenges. Next week former first responder Natalie Harris’ Save My Life School: A First Responder’s Mental Health Journey will be released. It’s the story of her time as a paramedic and living with anxiety, depression and addiction. The release of Harris’ book coincides with Bell Let’s Talk Day, an annual campaign to encourage people to talk about mental health challenges. Over half a million Canadians miss work each week because of mental health. The more people open up and recognize that mental health happens everywhere and affects people deeply, the more we can support one another with kindness and compassion.
Although I can’t go inside with Miller, when I’ve seen the circle of coffee drinkers heading in to the coffee shop or heading out to their trucks, I thank them for what they do and tell them how much it matters. They might find it odd, or they might find it supportive. I’m willing to take that risk in the hope it helps, especially if they’ve had a rough run of late and could use the comfort. If you can, I urge you to do the same. It can feel a bit awkward to break into the circle the first time, but it could make a very big difference to someone.
BC Professional Firefighters Association Mental Health Resources
Image mine, December 2016