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Obstacle cleared for first responder PTSD treatment

Terrace Standard - 5/9/2018

Removing an obstacle for first responders seeking treatment for psychological disorders recognizes the long term of effects of being exposed to traumatic experiences, says a senior member of the Terrace Fire Department.

"We all go through it. It's 24-7. It's a multitude of events over time. It begins to chip away at your mental health and well-being," said deputy fire chief Dave Jephson of the stress and strain first responders face in their occupations.

But now first responders — which includes firefighters, paramedics, police officers and correctional officers — will have a clearer path to treatment and compensation when filing claims with WorkSafeBC.

That's because the province has introduced legislation so that first responders diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental disorders won't have to prove their troubles arose from their jobs.

"Before it was 'well, prove it' and that was a big issue," said Jephson of amendments to Bill 9 which governs workplace conditions.

"What this does is take away the stigma of dealing with mental health. It brings it out into the open," he said.

"This really takes away that pressure of having to prove [PTSD is work-related]," Jephson added. "This takes a lot of heads out of the sand."

Jephson described the pending legislated change as a welcome continuation of the recognition and acknowledgment of stress and trauma connected with what first responders face, saying that firefighters begin talking about what they've experienced immediately after an incident.

"It's 'sit down and talk', getting that person to talk through the incident right away," he said of debriefing sessions.

"In the old days, you just didn't want to talk about it. But now, that starts right away, right after the call. 'How do you feel?' We work to lower those incidents [of PTSD] right away," Jephson said.

Firefighters also receive critical incident stress management training as part of their overall work preparation.

The pending changes to remove the obstacle of having to prove PTSD or other disorders are work-related follow an intensive lobbying effort on the part of first responders.

A new study published by the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry determined that first responders and public safety personnel are four times more likely than the general population to experience PTSD and other mental disorders. Four years ago the provincial government undertook a similar move as it is now doing with PTSD when it removed the need for firefighters to prove that heart conditions, including heart attacks, were as a result of their jobs when making claims to WorkSafeBC.

"That was huge," said Jephson. "Heart conditions, heart attacks, build up over time. It's not a one-time thing. If heart attacks were a physical result, now recognizing PTSD is the mental result. It's really a step in the right direction."

Firefighters now routinely have their blood pressure taken to establish a baseline which is then compared to a reading taken when out on a call.

"After two bottles of air, we take that person and sit them down. If their blood pressure is elevated, the commander at the scene can say 'here's your baseline. Here's your elevated. You're not going back'," said Jephson.

As of right now, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Yukon have already taken steps to what B.C. is now doing in relation to PTSD.

The pending changes regarding PTSD have yet to formally make their way through the provincial legislature but the provincial government has committed to making that happen this year.


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