Montreal

Mother of paramedic found dead after mosque shooting wants more help for PTSD victims

The life of Andréanne Leblanc, a paramedic who treated the wounded after the January 2017 mosque shooting in Quebec City, came unravelled in the months that followed the attack. Her mother blames untreated PTSD.

Lucie Roy is going public with her grief in hopes authorities will treat post-traumatic stress more seriously

Andréanne Leblanc showed clear signs of post-traumatic stress disorder in the months that followed the Jan. 29, 2017 shooting at a Quebec City mosque, including anxiety, hyper-awareness and mood swings, her mother says. (Submitted by Lucie Roy)

The mother of a Quebec City paramedic found dead just over a year after treating wounded victims of the Jan. 29, 2017 mosque shooting spree wants more help for people like her daughter suffering post-traumatic stress.

Andréanne Leblanc, 31, was found dead in March, dressed in her paramedic's uniform. She was on duty that frigid January night when she received the urgent call to head to the mosque in the city's Sainte-Foy district.

Lucie Roy, Leblanc's mother, is going public with her grief in the hope her daughter's death will push public health authorities and ambulance operators to take post-traumatic stress disorder more seriously.

"When she did this [took her own life], she wore her paramedic's uniform," Roy said in an interview from her home in the Magdalen Islands.

"It was a clear message telling us that she loved her job, but it was difficult."

Police and first responders arrived within minutes at the scene of the mosque shooting. (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)

The shooter, who court testimony said was seeking "glory," killed six men, seriously wounded another six and threatened the lives of about 40 people, children included, who'd gathered there for evening prayers.

Leblanc's task was to treat the wounded aboard her ambulance as they were rushed to hospital.

Leblanc, in that final gesture, wanted to send the message that paramedics save lives, "but maybe someone should take care of them, as well," Roy said.

"What led her to this torment was post-traumatic stress that was not caught in time," said Roy.

First responders must have available, and must accept, the help they need, she said.

Single hour of counselling

"Paramedics think they should be able to stand up to [PTSD]," Roy said. "But they are humans, too."

A couple of days after the mosque shooting, Andréanne Leblanc received about one hour of counselling.

Paramedics have this kind of badge, this kind of label that they are  superheroes .- André   Tremblay-Roy , Andréanne  Leblanc's friend and vice-president of her union local

André Tremblay-Roy, the vice-president of his local of the paramedics union and a friend of Leblanc's, said she never wanted to talk about that night.

Tremblay-Roy said before the mosque shooting, Leblanc was an outgoing, athletic person, up to any challenge.

However, when he would try to broach the subject of the attack, she turned evasive, he said, telling him, "I'm OK."

"I realize that all my colleagues need help sometimes," he said. "But paramedics have this kind of badge, this kind of label that they are superheroes."

"We're not," Tremblay-Roy said.

"I have pictures in my head that will remain with me for the rest of my life," he said, referring to his own traumatic experiences on the job.

Lucie Roy said that in addition to the mosque shooting, her daughter had to deal with three suicides in four years of fellow paramedics in Quebec City and Pointe-à-la-Croix in the Gaspé, where she used to work with Tremblay-Roy.

Roy said one hour of counselling after the mosque shooting was not enough.

Leblanc continued working as a paramedic in Rimouski but was granted a sick leave and returned to live with her family on the Magdalen Islands. (Submitted by Lucie Roy)

Leblanc continued to work as a paramedic after the mosque attack, Roy said, but she found her full-time job in Quebec City stressful and took a job as an on-call paramedic in Rimouski, thinking it would be less demanding.

But being on call all the time meant few nights of uninterrupted sleep, her mother said.

Roy visited her daughter often that final summer and found her increasingly tired, worn out and stressed. She also suffered a back injury, and her personal life came undone.

"It was one thing after the other that led to her stopping work," Roy said.

By September, Roy said, her behaviour was completely changed, and she couldn't recognize her daughter.

"You would say something to her, and she wouldn't remember. She was hyperactive, hyper-aware, much more irritable."

Although Leblanc was never diagnosed with PTSD, for Roy, who worked in health care, all her symptoms pointed to it.

"She didn't at all have the same personality. She would have mood swings for no apparent reason."

 At this point, Leblanc lived in fear that the phone would ring and she would be called to an emergency situation, her mother said.

"She was no longer able to go on," Roy said. "She did consult someone, and she was put on a sick leave."

Andréanne Leblanc, originally from the Magdalen Islands, was passionate about her job as a paramedic and wanted to help others, says her mother Lucie Roy. (Submitted by Lucie Roy)

The young woman returned to her mother's home on the Magdalen Islands, but by that point, insomnia compounded her woes.

"She was very agitated. When she couldn't sleep, she would get up in the middle of the night to read and do all sorts of things.

"It was like a downward spiral," Roy said.

Without a family doctor on the islands, Leblanc went to a walk-in clinic for help, but waiting times and the shortage of medical specialists on the Magdalens meant she did not get the counselling she needed.

Need for one-on-one therapy

Vince Savoia, executive director of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, a national foundation that helps public safety workers cope with trauma and costs of psychiatric treatment, said intervention plans should be mandatory and held on a regular basis, not only following major events.

"First responders view themselves as the fixers, and when they can't fix it, that's when they start to have issues," said Savoia, who dealt with his own PTSD in the 1990s.

He also deplores that Quebec's workplace safety board, contrary to other provinces, requires workers to prove without a doubt that their distress is linked to a single event, within six months of it happening.

"You add to the anxiety, depression, fear and anger, the financial responsibility that these people can't meet, that's just a recipe for disaster in the making," he said.

The École national de police du Québec, Quebec's police academy, has developed a program to help police and fire fighters deal with PTSD.

Shortage of paramedics

Donald Gilbert, general manager of the Corporation des services ambulanciers du Québec, said about 200 supervisors or paramedics have followed the PTSD training course.

But Quebec has a shortage of paramedics, making it difficult for individuals to take time to do the course.

"Each time we bring a paramedic in the classroom for two days, there are fewer paramedics in the field to serve the population," Gilbert said.

Lucie Roy said the program should be offered to all first responders in the province. More should be hired; they should  be better paid and recognized for the vital role they play.

Lucie Roy's daughter was one of the first responders to be called to the scene of the mass shooting in a Ste-Foy mosque, in January of last year. Roy says in the year that followed, her daughter struggled with anxiety and exhaustion. She took her own life this past spring. Roy is now calling on more open conversations about post-traumatic stress disorder. 13:30

"They are on the front line," she said. "They are the ones who take the patient to the hospital and often, with the care they provide, by the time they get to the hospital their life has already been saved."

Coroner Jean-Pierre Chamberland is investigating the circumstance of Andréanne Leblanc's death and could issue recommendations to the government or the industry.

Alexandre Bissonnette, the mosque shooter, entered guilty pleas to the six charges of premeditated murder and an additional six charges of attempted murder with a restricted weapon. He is expected to be sentenced next September.


Where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service

Toll-free 1-833-456-4566

Text: 45645

Chat: crisisservicescanada.ca

Association québécoise de prévention du suicide (AQPS) (French): 1-866-APPELLE

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre


If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them, says the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention
Here are some warning signs: 

Suicidal thoughts.
Substance abuse.
Purposelessness.
Anxiety.
Feeling trapped.
Hopelessness and helplessness.
Withdrawal.
Anger.
Recklessness.
Mood changes.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said incorrectly that Andréanne Leblanc died weeks after treating wounded victims of the Jan. 29, 2017 mosque shooting spree. In fact, she was found dead 14 months after the shootings.
    Jun 01, 2018 11:17 AM ET

With files from Quebec AM