Thunder Bay·Audio

Paramedics help create their own PTSD training in Thunder Bay

Paramedic Rob Moquin says he reached out for help after the trauma of working a call where a child died last summer. Now he's part of a program creating peer supports for members of Thunder Bay's Emergency Medical Services at risk of PTSD.

Superior North EMS partners with Lakehead University on mental wellness initiative

Rob Moquin is one of the paramedics who pushed for more mental health support. He says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after attending a call where a child died. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Thunder Bay Paramedic Rob Moquin says he knew something was wrong last summer when he became irritable with his family and was unable to sleep.

It happened right after he attended a scene in a high profile case in Thunder Bay where a child died. Moquin took time off work and sought professional help to deal with what he'd seen.

"Anytime we're dealing with children it's very difficult to process," Moquin said "Bad things aren't supposed to happen to kids."

Now Moquin is part of an initiative at Superior North Emergency Medical Service (EMS) that's ensuring all paramedics have mental health supports.

Superior North EMS Chief Norm Gale says paramedics often see "bad things happen to good people" and the stress of that can build up over time. (Jody Porter/CBC)
The EMS is partnering with Lakehead University in Thunder Bay to research the needs of local paramedics, and design a peer support network.

"The paramedics approached us and said we want to work with you, we want to develop something here and we want to be part of it," said EMS Chief Norm Gale. "And we said yes, that's a great idea, let's do it together."

Moquin is one of the paramedics who made the pitch to management.

"There are first responders across Ontario and Canada who are taking their lives," Moquin said. "We realized we needed some help out here."

Lakehead University's Jo-Ann Vis leads a class of paramedics explaining how trauma impacts brain functioning. (Jody Porter/CBC)
Paramedics face particular pressures on their mental well-being, according to Jo-Ann Vis, the Lakehead University social work professor who is working with paramedics to design the program.

"Certainly the exposure [to trauma] would be higher than almost any other occupation," Vis said. "It's related to police and fire but the paramedics are the people who are providing that one-on-one direct care and so exposure in that way makes them unique."

Classroom instruction led by Vis is teaching the paramedics about the ways that both chronic and acute exposure to trauma impacts their brains, their bodies and their ability to function. 

Moquin hopes it removes the stigma around post-traumatic stress disorder and helps paramedics take better care of themselves, and each other.

"Too often we're taught to just respond to calls and just go from call to call without any thought for ourselves," he said.


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