One in three Canadians will experience a mental health problem at some point in their life, and the earlier the problem is detected and treated, the better the outcome. Emergency responders can be especially prone to these issues; they are often in dangerous and highly stressful situations that have the potential of long lasting effects. To address these concerns, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services (EFRS) has partnered with Mental Health First Aid Canada to provide firefighters the early help that is needed to detect and treat mental health issues.

Mental Health First Aid has created a number of programs to help people who have developed a mental health issue, or are experiencing a mental health crisis. The program will teach EFRS’ officers how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, provide initial help, and guide a person towards appropriate professional assistance.

Individuals trained in mental health first aid are not intended to be councillors or therapists; instead, they administer assistance until appropriate treatment is found- just as physical first aid is provided until medical treatment can be obtained. It is a program Fire Chief Ken Block hopes will entice other emergency response organizations to develop their own mental health initiatives.

“Mental health issues pose a significant risk to the well-being of our staff and emergency responders throughout Canada and the world,” said Block. “When someone has a physical injury, there is a process for recovery, and mental health is no different. It is time that we start reducing stigma and building programs so our staff can have access to the help they need.”

Beginning at the end of November 2015, sixteen instructors were trained by Mental Health First Aid Canada to deliver this two day course to EFRS employees. These individuals began to train officers in January 2016.

A second program is also being developed to help employees recognize these symptoms in themselves. The program is called “Road to Mental Readiness,” and is aimed to reduce stigma and provide employees with the tools they need to seek help if they are struggling with a mental illness.

These programs are being developed as part of Edmonton Fire Rescue Services’ mental health initiative, and they are considered to be amongst the most in-depth and progressive mental health programs in the country.

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