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Yukon College PTSD course a 'step in the right direction:' paramedic

Devin Bailey can remember the call he responded to five years ago that made him hug his kids a little bit tighter when he got home. That incident made Bailey realize he needed support. Now, a course at Yukon College will help first responders recognize symptoms of PTSD, and help them prevent it from taking over their lives.

1-day course aims to help first responders and their spouses recognize symptoms of PTSD

Yukon's first responders are trained to run into burning buildings, rescue people from car crashes and assist with police situations, but they don't receive training on how to deal with the psychological impacts of their duties. (iStock)

Devin Bailey can remember the call he responded to five years ago that made him hug his kids a little bit tighter when he got home.

It was the kind of tragedy that kept him up at night, thinking about the family involved, and hoping to never have to deal with something similar with his own family.

That incident made Bailey realize he needed support.

"It's a normal thing to feel sad, to let these traumas, these psychological traumas, effect you," says paramedic Devin Bailey. "The more we can recognize it, the more we can acknowledge it, the better we can treat it." (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)
"We're trained to run into situations that other people are rushing out of," says the paramedic of 15 years. "And we have to go home at the end of the day and live with that trauma."

Although Yukon's first responders receive a lot of training specific to rescues and emergencies, they aren't trained on how to manage the psychological stress that may result from these duties. 

A new course offered by Yukon College may be the first step in changing that. 

Survival Skills for the First Responders, a one-day course held for the first time this week, is meant to raise awareness about post traumatic stress disorder for front line workers and their spouses. 

Bailey thinks all first responders should do training like this.  

"Every little call takes a little bite out of your soul. And over the course of time, you wouldn't be human if it didn't effect you." 

Survival skills is taught by Mike Swainson, a veteran emergency responder who delivers crisis intervention training at the college. He says this course will help first responders better cope with the emotional toll of their jobs. 

Chris Cleland hopes so. 

"I've always been that things didn't bug me, but, it adds up over time," says the firefigher. 

Cleland was diagnosed with PTSD last year and waited months for his treatment to be approved through a bureaucratic process. 

Stefanie Cleland attended the training course at Yukon College alongside her husband Chris Cleland, a firefighter who has been diagnosed with PTSD.
​Cleland's spouse attended this week's course with him and also stood by him while he got treatment.  

"We ended up having to really fight to prove that he had PTSD, and you hit a lot of roadblocks, says Stefanie Cleland. "With any mental illness, when you first come forward it takes a lot of guts." 

The couple hope this course is the first step in getting the territorial government to introduce presumptive PTSD legislation, similar to that enacted in Alberta.

The legislation in that province means that if a first responder is diagnosed with PTSD, it is presumed to be work-related. The responder is not required to link their PTSD with a specific incident. 

If similar legislation was adopted in Yukon, it would make treatment and services for PTSD victims easier to access.

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