“This study shows that paramedics and dispatchers are almost 5 times as likely to suffer a mental health injury as members of the general population." — Trudy Thomson, HSAA Vice President
Edmonton (31 Aug. 2017) — A ground-breaking study on mental disorders among first responders is proof that action needs to be taken immediately to prevent unnecessary suffering, says the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA).
Police, firefighters, paramedics, 911 operators and correctional officers face extreme risk of mental health injuries
“This study shows that paramedics and dispatchers are almost 5 times as likely to suffer a mental health injury as members of the general population,” says Trudy Thomson, Vice-President of HSAA/NUPGE, the union that represents about 25,000 health care professionals including paramedics and dispatchers.
The study was conducted by mental-health experts and published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. It looked at operational-stress injuries among first responders, including police, firefighters, paramedics, 911 operators and correctional officers. It reported that among the 5,813 participants in the survey, a total of 44.5 per cent screened positive for one or more mental disorders. The rates for paramedics and dispatchers were even higher at 49.1 per cent and 48.4 per cent respectively. According to Statistics Canada, the rate for the general population stands at 10 per cent.
“While this survey is bigger than we’ve seen before, the results are no surprise. This supports what we have heard from our members and from other statistics — paramedics and dispatchers are more likely to suffer mental-health injuries including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), than other first responders or health-care workers,” says Thomson.
HSAA/NUPGE urges Alberta Health Services to adopt life-saving approach to treating mental health injuries for first responders
HSAA/NUPGE is calling on Alberta Health Services (AHS) and other EMS providers in Alberta to give first responders access to mental health professionals when they need it and free of charge to the employee.
“Because the workers are exposed to these injuries as a result of their work, it’s the responsibility of the employer to provide appropriate care. The nature of these injuries means that the kind of support provided under Employee and Family Assistance Plans (EFAPs) isn’t sufficient. Workers need immediate and long-term assistance from experts familiar with EMS culture,” says Thomson. “We cannot wait any longer to provide this help. Every delay increases the risk of further injury or even deaths.”
Union provides training to workers to identify injuries, has offered to work with other EMS employers
HSAA/NUPGE has been working with AHS on mental health injuries since escalating the issue under the collective agreement 2 years ago. Together, the union and employer have instituted a training program to make workers aware of when they have an injury and when they need to seek help. All EMS members at AHS will have completed this training by the end of 2017.
HSAA has offered to work with other EMS employers, but they have not responded.
“Awareness is only the first step. Once a worker is aware he or she has a problem, they need access to help. This approach is already being used by various police and emergency-service agencies in Alberta and across Canada. It has been shown to reduce the number and severity of injuries. It’s time to adopt this life-saving approach here,” says Thomson.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. ~ NUPGE