SFU launches program to help first responders with mental health

Simon Fraser University is launching a new program to help first responders deal with mental health issues.

First Responders Trauma Prevention and Recovery Program is the first of its kind in the world

153 first responders have committed suicide so far in 2016. (tema.ca)

Simon Fraser University is launching a new program to help first responders deal with mental health issues.

More than 60 people have enrolled in the First Responders Trauma Prevention and Recovery Program.

"It comprehensively provides an opportunity for first responders to learn about how trauma impacts them and what they can do about it to support themselves from a mental health perspective," said Larry White, SFU's director of career and professional programs.

White says the program will provide people with a tool kit they can use before, during and after emergency calls to help them deal with trauma.

It also teaches first responders how to overcome stigma and issues like addiction and suicide.

Growing problem

There have been 48 first responder suicides in Canada so far this year, 16 of which have taken place in B.C.

Vince Savoia has dedicated his life to raising awareness for the issue.

61 students have signed up for the First Responders Trauma Prevention and Recovery Program at SFU. (tema.ca)

He was working as a paramedic when Tema Conter was brutally murdered by a serial killer in Toronto in 1988. Savoia suffered from post traumatic stress disorder after responding to the scene. 

In 2001, he founded the Tema Conter Memorial Trust.

Savoia has been working closely with SFU for the last two years to develop the program.

"When you look at the training first responders see, it is so intense," Savoia said.

"There is so much to learn that mental health and taking care of oneself almost takes a back seat. It's not important because they have so many things to learn."

Savoia says first responders often don't feel comfortable talking about mental health issues, but things have improved since he was a paramedic.

"We're starting to change that conversation," he said. "People are starting to realize now that, if I want to be a good paramedic and help people, I also have to learn to help myself."