Nova Scotia

Health authority launches support for first responders after N.S. shootings

The Nova Scotia Health Authority has launched a new service to help support first responders in the wake of the mass shooting that left 22 victims dead, including an RCMP officer.

First Responders Assist will offer short-term counselling for first responders and their families

Flowers laid in front of the RCMP detachment in Enfield, N.S. (Robert Short/CBC)

The Nova Scotia Health Authority has launched a new service to support first responders impacted by the Nova Scotia shootings.

"This is something that people need to have immediate response to. There's a lot of emotions going on right now. This is not normal," said Patrick Daigle, the provincial manager of the Nova Scotia Operational Stress Injury Clinic.

"So people need to be able to explore what they're feeling."

First Responders Assist offers short-term counselling and supportive services for first responders and their families. The program was made in collaboration with the health authority's Mental Health and Addictions Program and the Nova Scotia Operational Stress Injury Clinic.

Daigle said first responders and their families can access the confidential service by calling the provincial 24/7 mental health crisis line at 1-888-429-8167. 

"Someone will pick up the phone and they will start supporting them there, asking a few questions," he said. "And through that quick conversation they will be able to triage that person into the right service."

At least 22 people — including RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson — were killed last weekend after a gunman went on a 13-hour rampage through at least 16 crime scenes spread over 90 kilometres.

Daigle said an event like that can have a profound impact on first responders and their families.

"First responders are a very close-knit team and it's like a loss of a family member when one of their own passes," he said.

"I think the immediate reaction is, 'What can I do?' But it's still so important for people to look at themselves, and look within, and say, 'OK, what do I need in this moment?'"

'There is that trauma,' says head of RCMP union

Brian Sauvé, the president of the National Police Federation, the union that represents thousands of RCMP members, said he likes the idea of the First Responders Assist program.

While he said the RCMP offers mental health to staff through their supplemental benefits plan, he's "in favour of anything that adds to the resources available" for people to reach out for help.

"This is going to have a long-lasting impact — not only on Nova Scotians, not only on our members, but Canadians as a whole," he said.

Brian Sauvé is president of the National Police Federation. (CBC)

Sauvé said the events were upsetting to the RCMP not just because the force lost one of their own, but because many of the officers living in the area also knew the other victims of the shootings.

"We're embedded in the communities that we police — you know, soccer coaches, figure skating, hockey, all of those volunteer events," he said. 

"So the fact that they rub elbows with a lot of these community members on a daily basis ... there is that trauma."

He noted that on Thursday, Canadians are commemorating another tragedy: the two-year anniversary of the Toronto van attack, which claimed the lives of 10 people.

"That healing is still ongoing in Toronto, and I expect something similar with Nova Scotia," said Sauvé. "It will be years before the community recovers."

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.

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Alex Cooke

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Alex is a reporter living in Halifax. Send her story ideas at alex.cooke@cbc.ca.

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