Kitchener-Waterloo·Audio

Web portal helps first responders, families suffering from PTSD

The site "Safe Place to Turn" offers access to research, educational resources and links to community-based organizations for trauma survivors and their family members.  

Site offers research, resources and support

"Safe Place to Turn" is an online repository for research, educational resources and links to community-based organizations for first responders and their families. (Kim_Engvoldsen/Shutterstock)

A new web portal developed in Guelph connects first responders suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and their families, to resources from across the country. 

Grace Ewles is a former Ph.D student at the University of Guelph.

Her site "Safe Place to Turn,"is a repository for research, educational resources and links to community-based organizations for trauma survivors.   

Families often struggle alone

The site was launched in late 2019 — but Ewles said it was really years in the making.  

Her father is a former Durham Regional Police chief, and she said she often watched him carry the weight of his work home with him. 

"I really saw the impact of the work on my father and the role that my mother played in helping support him," she said. "Even as a child I kind of saw that there was a need for additional support." 

Through her research, she learned her family's story was not uncommon. 

Many first responders turn to their families before seeking outside help, taking an emotional and psychological toll on family members. 

"Supporting an individual can be really taxing and challenging," she said. "It's hard to know exactly how to provide the right type of support, particularly for someone going through PTSD." 

'I was looking for support' 

Others have to navigate the same challenges on their own. 

Wellington North Fire Chief Dave Guilbault said, as a young firefighter, he had trouble getting the support he needed at home.  

Wellington North Fire Chief Dave Guilbault developed a PTSD plan for his team back in 2017. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

"My father was a fire captain and there wasn't support because 'you're a firefighter you've got to be tough so suck it up,'" he said. "Which was which was extremely difficult for me."

In 2017, he introduced a PTSD plan for Wellington North firefighters, to make sure his team got the help they needed. 

He said a resource like Safe Place to Turn could help support others struggling with the kinds of traumas he faced. 

"Having as much information as possible is so, so important," he said. "I believe if we don't get help and we don't reach out we're going to suffer in silence and the situation is only going to be magnified." 

Grace Ewles developed "Safe Place to Turn" through her graduate work at the University of Guelph. The site connects first responders and their families to research and resources for dealing with the effects of trauma. (Grace Ewles)

The right direction

Ewles hopes her site can point first responders and their families in the right direction. 

"It's just increasing awareness of what is out there," she said. "That idea of knowing that you're not alone in this situation."

In the coming years, she'd like to offer online webinars and skills-based training as well. 

She also plans to work with families to develop new resources to help people dealing with PTSD. 

The site "Safe Place to Turn" offers access to research, educational resources and links to community-based organizations for trauma survivors and their family members. 6:41