British Columbia

Langara College offering new program to help first responders face trauma, PTSD

A new Langara College program is aimed at arming front-line emergency workers with coping tools to help prevent trauma and hopefully turn around caregiver suicide tolls.

Program aims to give paramedics, nurses, firefighters the tools they need to cope on the job

Firefighters and other first responders with PTSD are at the heart of a private member's bill going before the Ontario legislature on Feb. 16. (iStock)

A new Langara College program is aimed at arming front-line emergency workers with coping tools to help prevent trauma and hopefully turn around caregiver suicide tolls.

Ruth Lamb is spearheading the program, but she's also experienced trauma first-hand.

For years Lamb worked as a critical care nurse. She was so level-headed that her colleagues frequently asked her to break bad news to family members of patients.

After ten years on the job, it suddenly hit her.

Lamb realized that perhaps the reason she was able to manage so well was because she'd become emotionally numb.

As a critical care nurse, Ruth Lamb learned first hand how years of witnessing trauma can affect one's life. (Gavin Fisher/CBC)

"I woke up to the fact that I had been coping so well...but I was a machine," Lamb told On the Coast host Stephen Quinn.

Lost humanity

"I had lost that feeling of the pathos, and that's when I left critical care, because I knew I had lost some humanity by being such a wonderful critical care nurse."

Now Lamb is the coordinator of a new certificate program starting in September at Langara College which aims to teach first responders and front-line workers how to cope with the trauma they deal with on the job.

The course description for Strategic Resilience for First Responders states that this part-time program is specifically designed for paramedics, firefighters, police, military, crisis line professionals, educators, clergy, and those who work in health or child care.

Coping skills aren't usually taught

"We now have pretty good tools for testing for PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the rates in these first responders and front-line staff are horrendous," Lamb said.

According to the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, a Canadian organization dedicated to spreading awareness about PTSD in public safety personnel, 30 first responders have died by suicide so far in 2015.

30 lost to suicide so far in 2015

"That is a tremendous sign that whatever coping skills have been taught, if they have been remembered, they weren't useful enough, they weren't embodied and people aren't practicing them," she said.

Lamb said tools are needed for first responders to properly handle the effect that these jobs have on their physical and mental health.

"Some days there are no calls, but you don't know, and your nervous system doesn't know what day the call will come," she said.

Course will teach coping strategies

She said that it has taken 17 years to develop this new program at Langara College, which is offered through the continuing studies department and is 10 months long.

"Now after all these years, and a lot of theoretical work and several research studies, we've got a plan that looks very much on self-empowerment and health promotion."

The program will teach participants how to manage their nervous systems and maintain empathetic engagement with themselves and others.

Ultimately, strategies for handling anxiety and potentially traumatic events should be taught at a much younger age, according to Lam.

"We should be looking at primary health care, health promotion, and we should be starting at grade one, with children learning how to manage stress."

To hear the full interview click on the audio labelled: New college program to help first responders deal with PTSD, trauma


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