Mental health resources vital for first responders
WFPS Peer Support and Wellness Team working to end the stigma around mental health
January 29, 2019
First responders are who you call in an emergency. They help rescue people, get them medical care, as well as keep them safe. At times, they are with people experiencing their worst day.
“The reality is if your average unit responds to four calls per shift, you are looking at the possibility of being exposed to over 700 traumatic incidents within a year,” said Lisa Glowasky, a Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) Advance Care Paramedic.
That exposure can take a toll on a person’s physical and mental well-being. That’s why the WFPS developed the Peer Support and Wellness Team. Glowasky and Josh Klassen, a WFPS Senior Firefighter, serve as its coordinators.
“It’s not a counselling service and it’s not professional psychology,” said Klassen.
The Peer Support and Wellness Team helps connect WFPS members who may be struggling with their mental health to the appropriate resources.
“Our Peer Support Team is a group of about 50 volunteers who are active firefighters and paramedics,” said Glowasky. “They are very familiar with the trials and tribulations of doing calls, what it is like to experience trauma and are also familiar with the emotions people experience when they witness these traumatic events.”
The team is working to break down the stigma around mental health and asking for help.
“The more you keep inside, the more ill you are going to be, even if you don’t think that is going to happen, it will,” said Glowasky.
She said it is important for first responders to support each other and practice proper eating and sleeping habits, exercising, and self-care. This will allow them to be in a better position to handle traumatic events they are called to.
First responders can be looked to as heroes and idolized. At times, that pressure can weigh on them.
“One of the luxuries of this job is that it is one of those dream jobs,” said Klassen. “Kids dress up as you for Halloween and it’s very easy for you to wrap up your personality in this occupation.”
He urges other first responders to expand their interests beyond their work and to take their own mental and physical health seriously.
By being first responders themselves, Klassen and Glowasky hope they are more approachable for co-workers looking for assistance.
“It’s ok not to be ok and it’s ok to be ok too,” said Klassen. “Whatever someone is going through, we encourage them to take us up on the offer for the resources that are available, for their own health and the health of their family.”
If you or someone you know is struggling or is in crisis, you are not alone. The Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line is available 24 hours a day and can be reach at 1-877-435-7170.