LETHBRIDGE – Police, paramedics and firefighters from across southern Alberta took part in the first ever “Road to Mental Readiness” joint-training program Tuesday.
Instructors from the Mental Health Commission of Canada gathered in Lethbridge to provide training aimed at helping first responders identify mental illness in the workplace.
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Long-term effects can be severe for first responders and mental illness can be overlooked, especially in a high-stakes job where members often put the needs of others ahead of their own, according to one instructor.
“It’s something we haven’t spent a lot of time on,” Inspector Jason Doberstein of the Lethbridge Police Service said. “Dealing with the critical incidents that we go to, and dealing with it after, and how you talk about it with your peers is never really something we’ve been good at.”
“One of the goals of the program is breaking down that stigma,” Sergio Falzi, a retired police officer and facilitator for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, said. “To create an environment where it’s OK to talk about having troubles dealing with an issue, the same way you would talk about having a sprained ankle or a sore knee.”
In a line of work that is demanding, not only physically but also mentally, being equipped to notice warning signs for addiction and depression can help a colleague who is struggling to cope he said.
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“We’re giving them practical skills, it’s not just theory,” Falzi said. “There’s actually exercises we give them, to work through these situations and scenarios on what to do and what to say, what not to do and what not to say to resolve situations and foster a positive environment.”
The training program was initially developed by the Department of National Defence and strives to help first responders become stronger emotionally and mentally. Upon completion of the training course, participants will be equipped to provide training to other members of their team, with the ultimate goal being that all first responders know how to identify and help colleagues who are suffering from mental illness.
“I got an email from an individual who said, ‘I’ve been living for 14 years in the orange, and I never knew why’, and, the day he spent with us on the training, (he) realized that he needed to go get help for the experiences that he had seen on the job’.”
Organizers of the “Road to Mental Readiness” training program do not define mental health as a black and white issue, instead seeing it on a spectrum from green to red; red meaning the employee is suffering from severe mental health issues.
The 24 participants of the “Road to Mental Readiness” training program include sworn and non-sworn members from the Lethbridge Regional Police Service, Lethbridge Fire and EMS and neighbouring EMS and fire stations. Employees of the City of Lethbridge and the Employee Resource Centre also took part.