London

First-ever 'wellness' conference brings hundreds of first responders together

Though attitudes are changing about mental health, there are still barriers preventing first responders from acknowledging they need help says the keynote speaker of an event in London on Wednesday.

There are still barriers to asking for help says keynote speaker, Dr. Manuela Joannou

Dr. Manuela Joannou, an emergency physician and founder of Project Trauma Support, is the keynote speaker at the Be Well, Serve Well conference in London Wednesday. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Though attitudes are changing about mental health, there are still barriers preventing first responders from acknowledging they need help says the keynote speaker of an event in London on Wednesday.

Dr. Manuela Joannou is the medical director of Project Trauma Support, and she's speaking to hundreds of first responders from London and the surrounding area at the first ever Be Well, Serve Well conference.

"More and more of the emergency services are declaring that they have wellness programs and they have policies for prevention and PTSD and operation stress injury," she explained.

"In reality, in a lot of places, coming forward and saying you need help is still going to be something that prevents you maybe from being promoted up the ranks, it's going to maybe make you identified as someone other people might not want to work with, because you may look like a liability to them."

Joannou has seen what she calls institutional or sanctuary trauma, where organizations make it harder for their personnel to rebound from difficult calls.

A Middlesex-London ambulance in downtown London, Ont. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

One of the best ways to build up resiliency, she said, is to build connection.

"Connection to your own story, connection to the people who might help you sort through things… connection to the actual organization."

Joannou has been an emergency and family doctor for three decades, but said the most rewarding work she's done has been her past five years breaking down that stigma and teaching military members and first responders about resiliency.

"People can build resilience by exploring their own resilience philosophies, considering their values, and very often this is going to link back to why they signed up for their service in the first place."

The conference is being touted as a first of kind for the region, and is in partnership with police services around the area, the London Fire Department, the Middlesex-London Paramedic Service, the Ontario Police College, Fanshawe College and OPSEU Local 147.

The conference was for sworn and civilian members working in emergency services. 

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