News / Vancouver

B.C. university launches new program to combat PTSD

Simon Fraser University's new online course aims to teach first responders the skills to help protect themselves and their peers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

A paramedic with the B.C. Ambulance Service is seen in this file photo.

Thandi Fletcher/Metro

A paramedic with the B.C. Ambulance Service is seen in this file photo.

Simon Fraser University is trying to give back to first responders and veterans, launching a new program to equip them with the skills to combat post-traumatic stress disorder.

The online certificate program, which bills itself as the first of its kind in Canada, aims to give those who work on the front lines of emergency and military services to help protect themselves and their peers from the mental health effects related to workplace trauma.

“It’s an opportunity to give back to those brave men and women who support us every day,” Larry White, director of career and professional programs at SFU, told Metro. “First responders, in all of the calls that they are sent on are putting their lives on the line to ensure our safety and security.”

The program, which starts this fall, comes as PTSD is reaching crisis levels in Canada.

Last year, 39 Canadian first responders and 12 military members died by suicide, and 2016 has already seen its first two incidents, according to the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, which provides support for first responders and military personnel struggling with mental health issues.

The program, which Tema Conter Memorial Trust helped develop, will see active and retired first responders teach others in their line of work the skills on how to recognize the onset of mental illness, as well as tips on how to mitigate the impact of PTSD before, during and after a traumatic incident.

Along the way, students will also take part in checkpoints to ensure the course material hasn’t triggered any symptoms of PTSD.

By teaching first responders how to recognize their own PTSD symptoms, White hopes the course has a “trickle down impact” in helping them recognize it in their peers. That in turn will help them in their work with the public, he said. 

“The more you understand yourself, the better you are able to recognize it in others and offer support,” he said. “And the better you are able to assist and support citizens.”

Police officers, paramedics, firefighters, corrections workers and military personnel are encouraged to enrol in the program. By offering the course online, the university hopes to reach the widest possible audience, said White.

“Anyone with an Internet connection across the country or around the world can participate,” he said, adding that the online course makes it easy for emergency workers with busy schedules to take part.

White said he hopes the program helps to open up the conversation about PTSD and break down the stigma associated with mental illness.

“We don’t seem to have much difficulty wrapping our minds around a broken leg and the need to treat that,” he said. “But when something is a hidden traumatic event, it becomes a little bit more difficult. It’s harder to describe and harder to visualize.”

More on