Paramedic laid to rest as advocates call for PTSD help for first responders

An Ontario paramedic was laid to rest Friday, at the end of a week in which Ontario promised to take action to help first responders deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Seven first responders have died so far this year as Ontario promises new plan

Ontario paramedic Martin Wood was laid to rest Friday.

An Ontario paramedic was laid to rest Friday, at the end of a week in which Ontario promised to take action to help first responders deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Martin Wood was a veteran paramedic who loved his job. However, his wife, Wanda, told a local newspaper that he saw no other way to end the pain he was feeling.

Since the beginning of the year, seven first responders have died by suicide in Ontario.

Wanda's brother, Dan Monague, was among the family and friends who gathered in Midland, Ont., Friday to say goodbye to Wood.

Monague was a police officer for 25 years before becoming an investigator with the province's Special Investigations Unit. Being a first responder is "a tough profession," Monague said.

"We've all seen things that we weren't meant to see, but things that we have to deal with in our own ways," he told CBC News.

His brother-in-law seemed fine, Monague said.

"But we don't know what's happening in different people's minds and how they're going to cope," he said.

Wood's wife was also a paramedic and suffers from PTSD from her work, he added. She is having "a tough time" coping with the sudden death of her husband, Monague said.

'I'm now paying the price'

Retired police officer Ralph Thistle knows the pain of PTSD all too well.

"The PTSD kind of quantum locks me in the past," Thistle told CBC.

"So when I'm sleeping, I'm a police officer again, involved or immersed in all this violence and all the things I had to do to keep society safe. I'm now paying the price."

Five years ago, Thistle hit rock bottom. He was divorced, homeless, alienated from his children and struggling with alcohol addiction. At the time, he believed his only way out was to create a situation where another officer would be forced to shoot him, what's known as suicide by cop.

Now, part of his recovery involves sharing his story with other officers, many who suffer in silence.

He says that one of the biggest impediments to recovery is getting access to PTSD treatment.

"The member has to fight workers compensation to prove that they are, in fact, suffering from PTSD, addiction and mental health issues," Thistle said. "Workers compensation just throws up the wall, and they grind you until you commit suicide."

'One suicide is too many'

The provincial Liberal government has long promised a new strategy related to first responders and PTSD.

Earlier this week, the province announced a plan that will include both prevention and outreach, and legislative measures. An advertising campaign will be aimed at raising awareness and reducing stigma around PTSD.

Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said the government is also considering whether to cover first responders with PTSD under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.

Other provinces, such as Alberta and Manitoba, already consider PTSD a workplace injury.

NDP MPP Cheri Di Novo has been pushing for change in Ontario for eight years, and has tabled a private member's bill five times.

"If this was declared a workplace injury for first responders, they wouldn't have to prove it," Di Novo told CBC News. "It would be assumed, as it is in Alberta, as it is in Manitoba."

Di Novo says the government's new plans are "all good," but said it's time for legislation.

"One suicide is too many," she said. "This is a treatable ailment. If they get the counselling they need, the coverage they need, they survive this and go back to work and thrive. All we need now is the government of Ontario to do the right thing."

Dan Monague hopes to see change, and soon. He says first responders, particularly in small communities where they often know the victims they are called to help, are suffering.

"I want people to know the struggles that first responders go through on a regular basis, and how they need to have mechanisms to cope with that," Monague said. "A lot of times it's not something you want to bring home to your families either, and you're left suffering in silence. This is something that needs to be addressed."

With files from The Canadian Press