Ottawa

First responders turn to each other for support in suicide prevention

Peer and family support groups for Ottawa first responders held their first suicide prevention workshop Monday for people connected with all three emergency services.

Workshop held for family, co-workers of those dealing with PTSD, depression and suicide

Paramedics from Prescott-Russell were among the more than 100 people who attended a suicide prevention workshop hosted by Ottawa police, paramedics and firefighter peer support groups. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Peer and family support groups for Ottawa first responders held their first suicide prevention workshop for people connected with all three emergency services.

The Monday night panel discussion was in part organized in response to a body of research that found police, firefighters and paramedics have a higher rate of suicide than the general population, according to Lorraine Downey, co-ordinator of the Ottawa Paramedic Peer Support Group.

"All of us in the first responder community have lost friends and peers to suicide and we're really trying to prevent that from moving forward," Downey said.

"We tend to be the ones to help people, we don't tend to be the ones to ask for help. So we're looking to change that stigma."

Lorraine Downey, co-ordinator of the Ottawa Paramedic Peer Support Group, says it is important to break down the isolation first responders feel when they deal with traumatic events. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Ottawa Fire Services deputy chief Sean Tracey said peer support groups are among the best ways to reach out to first responders to get them the help they need.

"Firefighters, police officers, paramedics … that are brothers and sisters of those people on the job can provide them support, assistance, let them know they are not alone with those depressing thoughts," Tracey said.

Jocelyn Bond and Dana Tapak, who both have spouses with PTSD, say family members are often the first to notice symptoms, but need resources to know how to help. 1:17

Providing family resources

Jocelyn Bond, whose husband is a police officer, started the First Responder Family Resiliency Support Group because of her husband's experience with post-traumatic stress.

"My husband did have a suicide note in his locker. Luckily, he didn't follow through on that," she said.

Jocelyn Bond, a facilitator for the First Responder Family Resiliency Support Group, says she got involved with peer support after her husband's experience as an Ottawa police officer. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Bond said there were signs her husband wasn't well earlier but she didn't know how to identify them — such as a shorter temper and sleep deprivation.

The objective of the support group is to give family members the tools and resources to support first responders and help identify and address the symptoms of stress injuries, she said.

"I felt very alone as a spouse, I felt like I was the only one," she said. "I felt like I could go to my friends and family and tell them what was going on, [and] like they wouldn't understand the symptoms I was living with in my spouse."

Dana Tapak, a member of First Responder Family Resiliency Support Group, says she works with her husband, a firefighter, to cope with his PTSD. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Dana Tapak, another member of the support group, is married to a firefighter who developed PTSD while serving with the armed forces in Rwanda.

Tapak said she and her husband talk about his calls to help process the stress. She said spouses need to be equipped with how to handle information to avoid second-hand stress.

"I like to know if he's affected by the call, but I don't need to know all of the grime and the gruesomeness," she said.

Organizers say Monday's event at Ben Franklin Place was the first of a series to cross the barriers between services and help build connections on mental health issues.


Need help? Here are some mental health resources in the National Capital Region:

  • Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
  • Ottawa Suicide Prevention: 613-238-3311