Winnipeg’s first responders need more mental health support, destigmatization: advocates

Mental health supports for Winnipeg’s first responders have improved, but the president of the union representing those workers says there’s still a long way to go.

Tom Bilous of the United Firefighters Union told 680 CJOB’s The Start that while mental health issues are becoming destigmatized, there’s more work to be done. He says a proactive approach is needed — rather than waiting for someone who is struggling to reach out for help.

“We’re getting better at recognizing and heeding things… that at one time would be seen as just fleeting banter, maybe now should be heeded as a warning sign,” he said.

“This guy said he’s been having some issues, maybe we should get him to talk to somebody.”

Bilous said he would even go as far as requiring members to do a mandatory session with a counsellor once a year, to take away any stigma around reaching out for help.

Story continues below advertisement

“Let’s get some resources and have that talk — not just let time try to heal.

“I think there is an acknowledgement and a recognition these days that mental health professionals play an absolute crucial role in our world and we need to tap into that more — there needs to be more resources and we need to access it, for sure.”

The latest health and medical news emailed to you every Sunday.

First responders deal with the same daily stresses as other workers, he said, but the danger and trauma that surrounds their work environment can make things worse.

“You’re put in situations, and you see things that are unnatural… and they stick with you and they pile up.”

Click to play video: 'Constant fires running Winnipeg’s firefighters ragged, union says'

Constant fires running Winnipeg’s firefighters ragged, union says

Scott Maxwell, executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada — a national mental health service that helps military veterans and first responders — said first responders experience a person’s worst day, every day, and that takes a huge toll on their mental health.

Story continues below advertisement

“Who in the regular daily routine of their work environment experiences things like that? Obviously the answer is not very many of us, thank goodness,” Maxwell told 680 CJOB’s The Jim Toth Show.

“But the consequences of that being their daily reality… take a toll. It just goes without saying.”

Maxwell said his organization is seeing an unprecedented level for first responders needing support — and while the level of trauma, staffing shortages, and call volumes have all contributed, another big reason behind the increase is the ongoing destigmatization of mental health issues.

“There has been a lot of movement to make members and their families… feel more comfortable. To come forward and access care.”

If you’re struggling, help is available by calling or texting the Suicide Crisis Helpline at 988.

Click to play video: 'Growing number of mental health calls to first responders leaves ‘feeling of helplessness’'

Growing number of mental health calls to first responders leaves ‘feeling of helplessness’

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.