I am a firefighter with 27 years of service and currently holding the rank of Acting Platoon Chief for Central York Fire Services in Newmarket and Aurora, Ontario.
The various roles and ranks I have held include volunteer firefighter, dispatcher, career firefighter, Acting Captain, Captain, Acting Platoon Chief as well as holding positions on the Health and Safety Committee, Association Executive and Association President.
I am also a vocal advocate for 1st responder mental health using my lived experience with PTSD and Depression to help educate others by telling the story of my mental health journey through talks, presentations and published writings.
My story includes a deeply personal account of my mental health journey detailing the milestones achieved, mistakes made and lessons learned and what YOU need to know about PTSD/Depression and its symptoms.
1st Responder Suicides
“And yet another......... I have said it before and will say it again.....So long as we, as a society, as emergency services organizations keep doing what we are doing, it is my opinion that 1st responder deaths by suicide will continue. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome. We continually say “we are here for you, you are not alone, just reach out” but those who choose suicide didn’t reach out. Many of the sufferers I have networked with have also said they didn’t reach out. I didn't reach out. Regardless of whether it was because of stigma or something else, the point is they didn’t reach out. Instead of standing on the shore watching someone drown in a pond of water and saying to them “we are here for you, you are not alone, just reach out” perhaps its time that we proactively reach in. As rescuers we eventually go into that water and make the rescue. Why do we not do the same thing when someone is drowning from PTSD/Depression/Anxiety?? I ask a very simple question......so just how is what we are currently doing working ....it's not!!”
1st Responder Mindset
“As a 1st responder, you can't walk through water and not get wet, you can't walk through a sewer and not come out smelling like shit and you can't go through a career as a 1st responder doing the things that we do, seeing the things that we see and experiencing the things that we experience and not be affected in some way. There is no shame in that. The problem is the 1st responder mindset is challenged to genuinely accept that because it is never about us, its always about them, the members of our communities that we have sworn to protect and sacrifice ourselves for.”
“Experts.......nothing like lived experience to make one an expert. No disrespect to the well intentioned educated "experts" but unless you have ridden a police car, fire truck, ambulance, military vehicle or secured societies most hardened criminals all you are is book smart. It goes back to the old cliche...unless you have walked in my boots you will never truly understand. When it comes to mental health lived experience means everything !!”
The "Just Reach Out" Phrase We Always Hear
“I would add that getting our respective organizations to accept and therefore acknowledge without the typical platitudes things like...
1) yes 1st responder suicides is a crisis and are as equally an organizational priority as physical injuries are
2) the shear number of 1st responder suicides makes it an organizations problem not an individuals problem
3) sanctuary trauma does exist and does have an impact on an OSI sufferer and in many cases only makes the issues worse
4) because IT IS an organizational problem, when you say "just reach out" you are putting the onus on the individual for the solution to an organizational problem and not on the organization where it belongs (see #2)
5) because it is an organizational problem a proactive approach by the organization is required”
In this new book by retired Simcoe County Paramedic Natalie Harris she details various stages of PTSD Recovery, with anecdotal experiences provided for inclusion within the book.
Provided content to be included in this upcoming release. Story provided is titled "To the Brink and Back With My Good Friend Ego"
Peer support training that strictly adheres to the training objectives provided by the "Guidelines for the Practice and Training of Peer Support" published by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
MHFA Basic is a course intended for adults interacting with adults (18 years and older). This courses focuses on the four most common mental health disorders including substance related, mood related, anxiety and trauma related, and psychotic disorders. Participants who take this course are well prepared to interact confidently about mental health with their family, friends, communities, and workplaces
Talk and presentation to the department firefighters and senior officers about my mental health journey including the milestones achieved, the mistakes made, lessons learned and PTSD/Depression symptoms as they manifested within me.
Provided input and feedback for the development of a national peer-to-peer support app for 1st Responders being developed by Defence Research and Development Canada in conjunction with the Canadian Institute For Public Safety Research and Treatment and RCMP.
"The Hollow Words I Live By". Published by the SickNotWeak media platform.
Words Matter: How to Safely Communicate About Suicide presented by the National Action Alliance For Suicide Prevention.
"My Love Hate Relationship With Stigma". Published by the SickNotWeak media platform.
The Invisible Wounds Conference for First Responders provided opportunities to increase awareness of how to build resiliency skills to help deal with occupational stress injuries that are inherent in the profession. This conference assisted First Responders interested in learning about and addressing relationships issues, anger, and mental health challenges, including, but not limited to, hypervigilance, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, PTSI, and PTSD.
Focus Group for the development of a mental health app for 1st Responders run by McMaster University's Faculty of Health Sciences and funded by the Canadian Institues of Health Research.