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Paramedic program teaches students about post-traumatic stress disorder

Emily Stewart | Interrobang | News | August 29th, 2016




Dugg Steary, the co-ordinator for the paramedic program at Fanshawe, was pleased with Ontario’s movement to help first responders experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“I feel it’s a long time coming. Not much more to say than that. It’s important and we had wanted it for years,” he said.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) defines PTSD as a mental health disorder that “involves exposure to trauma involving death, near death, serious injury or sexual violence.”

Last spring, the provincial government passed a new legislation for a presumption that PTSD experienced by first responders is related to their job. The presumption, under the Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act, will bring quicker access to treatment and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) benefits.

The law also covers emergency response teams, police officers, firefighters, dispatchers, youth service workers and correctional officers. The Ontario government said that first responders’ rate of experienced PTSD nearly doubles that of the general population, as first responders are more likely to experience traumatic stressors.

Steary said that the only addition to the lessons about PTSD is that they will be discussing how the WSIB coverage will be beneficial, and how the eyes of the law views paramedics. Fanshawe has a crisis intervention for paramedics course, which teaches students about PTSD, how to prevent it, how to recognize it and how to treat it.

Learning methods

The paramedic students listen to guest speakers talk about their own experiences with PTSD. They also participate in lab classes where they simulate stressful situations they may encounter on the field.

Steary added that they discuss follow up strategies with students, so they are prepared for their placements at facilities such as hospitals. The paramedic faculty also follows up with placement supervisors and use on-campus resources such as Counselling Services.

Steary said that if PTSD affects a student, the paramedic program will pull the individual away from placement, simulated lab calls and anything else that could trigger it, until the student is healthy and ready to return.

“It’s like breaking a bone. You need time to heal and then after that you can go back and run again or use that bone again,” Steary said. “Just as with PTSD, you need time to heal before you are exposed to those potential calls again.”

Steary emphasized that PTSD can affect anyone. “These things are, in the best case scenario, career- limiting that [leads] people [to] quit their jobs and look for other jobs. The worst case scenario, as we know with many of our friends and colleagues, they’ll commit suicide,” he explained.

“Students are stressed as it is, and we don’t want to cause further stresses, especially avoidable stresses,” he said. “We have to take it seriously. People have to talk about it and we have to get rid of the stigma that it’s weak people that it affects because it can happen and will happen to anyone.”

Encouraging Self Care

Steary said that like any type of stress, PTSD symptoms depend on the individual. He said that if anyone acts out of the ordinary for a long period of time, then we look at why that may be. He cited appetite, mood and exercise habits as some examples of behavioural changes.

He added that a healthy and balanced lifestyle achieved by eating well and exercising regularly is essential for PTSD prevention and recovery. Steary also encourages students to pick up a hobby away from the classroom.

“Whether that’s reading, or arts, or playing an instrument, or even if you’re playing Xbox, [find] something you can do regularly to prevent stress from occurring.”
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