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VIDEO: From tragedy to greater support, first responders team up for mental health

Oak Bay News - 9/11/2018

First responders face off in a friendly game of ice hockey to raise awareness and support for those struggling to cope with depression and PTSD – side affects of the daily trauma faced as part of their professions.

"We thought it would be a good way to raise awareness about mental health, especially for first responders who wind up seeing terrible things. We want people to know there are people to talk to and resources to access," said Jason Hodge, executive director of Oak Bay Firefighters Charitable Foundation.

In Canada 145 first responders died by suicide from 2015 to 2017, according to Tema Conter Memorial Trust, an organization dedicated to helping emergency, public safety and military members.

"My department had back-to-back suicides within about a seven-week time period and it was at that point when my department and the provincial firefighters association said enough is enough," said Matt Johnston, full-time Surrey firefighter and a mental health clinician.

Since then they have been creating a lot of positive initiatives at a wide variety of levels, from WorkSafeBC to individual fire departments.

"We know that these mental health challenges are riddled throughout every first responder profession in the province," said Johnston. "We all have to work hard at maintaining positive healthy lifestyles to minimize the impact the stressors of our jobs are going to have on us.

The hockey game on Sept. 8 at the Archie Browning Sports Centre brought together first responders from around Greater Victoria, a mental health clinician and resources from WorkSafeBC.

"You know, there are a lot of people hurting from some people they've lost. There have been some tough times, for Oak Bay Fire Department especially, and Esquimalt," said organizer Steve Serbic, assistant chief of Esquimalt Fire Department. "These are amazing professions but they can be really, really hard on people that care. There is a cost to putting on a uniform."

"There is a larger cultural aspect to this. Whenever we lose a member either active or retired there are all 4000 firefighters and a number of chiefs affected at a very deep level," said Johnston. "Not only from a friend standpoint but also from an organizational standpoint and a personal standpoint because it throws you into this introspective state where you wonder if that is going to happen to you because of all the rocks in your own personal backpack."

But the future is looking brighter for first responders. "A lot has changed just in the last year in the Victoria region. There wasn't a lot of support out there in the past but in the last year and a half, WCB has completely changed and done an about face. It is awesome. There has been tons of support," said Serbic.