New legislation tackles mental health of first responders

Province announces better access to services, compensation for PTSD

New provincial legislation announced in Victoria Wednesday is aimed at giving first responders better access to services and compensation for mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“These changes are about fairness and support for workers who put their lives on the line to protect British Columbians as part of their jobs,” Labour Minister Harry Bains said in a press release. “First responders, sheriffs and both provincial and federal correctional officers who experience trauma on the job and are diagnosed with a mental disorder should not have the added stress of having to prove that their disorder is work related in order to receive support and compensation.”

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Amendments to the Workers Compensation Act were introduced today in Victoria and, if approved, will add PTSD and other mental disorders to the list of conditions that are recognized as being presumptive conditions associated with specific types of jobs.

“This is extremely welcome news for paramedics in British Columbia,” Cameron Eby, provincial president for the Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of B.C., said in a statement following the announcement. “Our team has worked hard to gain this type of support for our members and other allied emergency agencies.

“We are extremely grateful that our government has recognized the significant mental health challenges faced by paramedics in our province and believe this legislation will provide relief to our front line pre-hospital medical care professionals.”

The issue of PTSD and paramedics is highlighted in a new documentary, After the Sirens, that recently aired on CBC Television.

A recent study in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry reveals that public safety personnel — paramedics, police officers, firefighters, dispatchers and correctional officers — are four times more likely to develop one or more mental disorders. According to the study, “paramedics report experiencing very high rates of exposure to human suffering for which they often feel responsible, potentiating substantial emotional stress.”

“Paramedics and dispatchers are routinely exposed to unimaginable trauma and tragedy,” said Lindsay Kellosalmi, chair of critical stress management with the Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of B.C. “Both the Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC and British Columbia Emergency Health Services have worked very hard to improve the resources available to paramedics and dispatchers in our province.”

The legislation does not extend to call-takers and dispatchers, however both organizations plan to advocate for the inclusion of these workers in the future.

@JessicaEKerr

jkerr@vancourier.com

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