Starting this fall, Simon Fraser University will be offering a new online certificate program to help equip first responders and veterans with the tools to combat post-traumatic stress disorder — and it will be available to anyone around the world.

The First Responders Trauma Prevention and Recovery program will consist of 300 hours and 10 individual modules, and registrants can choose between taking individual courses or completing a certificate.

"What we're hoping is, over the 10 course program, they'll be able to walk away with a clear understanding of how to recognize the signs and symptoms, not only within themselves but also within their colleagues," said Vince Savoia, the founder and executive director of The Tema Conter Memorial Trust, which helped develop the program.

Suicide from PTSD

According to the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, a Canadian organization dedicated to spreading awareness about PTSD in public safety personnel, 39 first responders and 12 military members died by suicide in 2015, and already in 2016 three first responders have died by suicide.

Savoia said the course — which doesn't require people to be SFU students — will help participants develop mental health strategies that they can share with their colleagues in the workplace.

"By the time they've finished the program they'll be able to go back to their own organization and actually put in place a health-and-wellness program which will include a peer-support structure," he said.

Savoia said the program is designed for paramedics, firefighters, police officers, 911 and ambulance communications officers and members of the military, as well as nurses, physicians and social workers. 

Course available online, worldwide

Though the course is online, students will have the opportunity to communicate face-to-face with instructors through video conference, and students will also have online discussions among themselves.

"It doesn't matter where you are in the world, you can register for the program and take the courses."

Savoia said there will also be measures in place to help anyone who is "triggered" by the material.

"We've also put in checkpoints throughout the entire program that if anybody is struggling through any particular phase of the program we will have mental health professionals available for them."

Another Lower Mainland post-secondary institution also recently began offering a program to give first responders and front-line workers the tools they need to cope with the trauma they face on the job.

In September 2015 Langara College began offering Strategic Resilience for First Responders, a part-time certificate program specifically designed for paramedics, firefighters, police, military, crisis line professionals, educators, clergy and those who work in health or child care.

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: SFU launches new online program that aims to equip first responders with the tools to combat PTSD.