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‘Warrior Health’ platform connects first responders with specialized mental health resources

Whether it’s a burning house with children trapped inside or a gangland shooting with multiple victims, Canadians count on firefighters, paramedics and police to run toward danger.

Emergency service workers in this country are celebrated for their bravery, but some studies show as many as one in two first responders battle psychological trauma linked to their jobs.

Now, a new digital platform aims to help improve mental health resources for emergency responders and military veterans across Canada. The program is a collaboration between B.C.-based First Responder Health Services and Wounded Warriors Canada.

Metro Vancouver firefighter Matt Johnston founded First Responder Health Services in 2017 with the goal of connecting first responders with mental health professionals who would understand the stoic culture that sometimes permeates emergency response agencies.

“We have had to deal with a cluster of suicides that happened within our province and one of the gaps that we noticed was the lack of culturally competent health care,” Johnston told CTV News.

He shared memories of this summer’s unprecedented heat dome, which killed hundreds of people in B.C., as an example of the kind of trauma many first responders deal with.

In some cases, firefighters sat with the elderly and medically vulnerable as they died, because there was nothing else they could do, Johnston said.

“I remember those calls quite vividly,” he said. “That’s a type of moral injury that we’re simply not trained in dealing with.”

Johnston’s organization has been providing occupational awareness training to health-care professionals that aims to give them insight into the repeated trauma that workers in military and emergency response environments face.

The partnership with Wounded Warriors Canada is making this type of training available nationwide. It’s also providing an “AirBnB-style” platform for those in need to find health-care providers who are trained to help people in their specific situations.

Through the “Warrior Health” website, first responders can find someone who knows how to listen to them, regardless of where in Canada they live. 

With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Ben Miljure 

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