New Brunswick

Saint John paramedic says PTSD is a 'rampant epidemic'

A Saint John man is speaking out about what he calls the "rampant epidemic" of post-traumatic stress disorder among Canadian paramedics.

Troy Harnish spent 25 years as a paramedic in New Brunswick, western and northern Canada

Troy Harnish is back in New Brunswick, which he said has saved his life. (Submitted by Troy Harnish)

A Saint John man is speaking out about what he calls the "rampant epidemic" of post-traumatic stress disorder among Canadian paramedics.

Troy Harnish spent 25 years as a paramedic in New Brunswick, western Canada and the far north before post-traumatic stress syndrome force him to retire to his home province.

An everyday experience, such as a baby crying in a grocery store, is a trigger for what he calls a "meltdown.”

This is something that's exceptionally difficult for us to talk about.- Troy Harnish

"I have a tremendously difficult time dealing with people now," he says.

It's something he hasn't spoken about publicly until now.

His mind was changed by news of last week's suicide of Greg Turner, an Edmonton paramedic. It was the fourth death of a paramedic in Canada in a year.

Harnish spent 25 years as a paramedic in New Brunswick, western Canada and the far north before post-traumatic stress syndrome force him to retire to his home province. (Submitted by Troy Harnish)
"This is something that's exceptionally difficult for us to talk about," says Harnish.

"It's easier for me to hide."

Greg Turner, a veteran paramedic of 16 years, was found Jan. 26 by his fellow first responders inside Edmonton's Kildare neighbourhood dispatch station. His colleagues were unable to resuscitate him.

Harnish says he wants Canadians to see Turner's death as a symptom of a "rampant epidemic.”

He says he believes as many as 50 per cent of paramedics suffer from some sort of mental illness.

"We have some brilliant people committing suicide," he says.

Harnish says he believes his home overlooking the Bay of Fundy has saved his life. There are few neighbours on this part of the coast east of Saint John.

Harnish says his fear of crowded grocery stores and restaurants are, in part, to his work as a flight paramedic in the Arctic.

Harnish said his fear of crowded grocery stores and restaurants are, in part, to his work as a flight paramedic in the Arctic. (Submitted by Troy Harnish)
There were no roads to many of the communities he served. And sometimes 40 to 50 per cent of the patients being rushed to hospital were pediatric cases.

"I've lost a lot of children in my care," he says. 

Attitudes toward mental illness have to change, says Harnish, both within the paramedic community and in the public at large. 

He says people who seek help should not be seen as weak and workplace mental injury claims must never be treated with skepticism.

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