Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries and Support for Public Safety Officers
Public safety officers play a critical role in keeping our communities safe from a range of threats, putting their lives on the line to protect us. In the course of their daily work, public safety officers are repeatedly exposed to traumatic incidents, which can put them at great risk for operational stress injuries (OSI), including post-traumatic stress injuries (PTSI).
In recognition of the profound and lasting impacts that repeated traumatic exposures can have on mental health and personal resilience of public safety officers, Budget 2016 reiterated the Government's commitment to ensuring that public safety officers have the support and treatment they need when facing post-traumatic stress injuries.
Public Safety Canada (PS) is working closely with a broad stakeholder community, including all levels of government, along with other government departments and associations of first responders to develop a coordinated action plan on post-traumatic stress injuries in support of public safety officers. To date, PS and the Public Health Agency of Canada have hosted two roundtable discussions to facilitate stakeholder input into this action plan, and have stood up a Tri-Services Advisory Committee made up of representatives from firefighting, police and paramedic professional organizations to support a collaborative approach in its development and implementation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a public safety officer?
Public safety officer is a broad term meant to include front-line personnel who ensure the safety and security of Canadians. These include first responders such as fire fighters, police, and paramedics, search and rescue volunteers, correctional services officers, border services officers, operational intelligence analysts, Indigenous emergency managers, and others working in the field.
What is an operational stress injury?
An operational stress injury is a non-medical term that is generally defined as “persistent, psychological difficulties resulting from operational duties”.
Within the broad category of operational stress injuries related to public safety officers and other operational personnel, a number of mental health issues can be described as Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries (PTSI), including depression, substance abuse, and clinically diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Why does Public Safety use the term “post-traumatic stress injury” rather than “post-traumatic stress disorder”?
While consulting with public safety officers, PS heard about the impact of mental health stigma in the public safety community, and how terms like “disorder” can have a negative connotation, which can deter public safety officers from seeking help or treatment for occupation-related mental health issues. As such PS and federal partners have adopted the term “post-traumatic stress injuries” to better characterize occupation-related mental health issues as injuries resulting from their daily work, and to help increase awareness that the mental health impacts of exposure to traumatic events extend beyond clinically diagnosed PTSD and include other issues, such as drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression and others. The intent is that this language will help to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues and build an environment of acceptance and inclusion.
What is the clinical definition of PTSD?
PTSD is an anxiety-related disorder caused by experiencing traumatic events, such as combat situations, physical or sexual assaults, disasters, terrorist attacks and serious accidents that, may lead to problems in functioning in social or family life, and at work or at school.
What are some of the symptoms associated to PTSD?
PTSD may include the following:
- Re-experiencing or reliving the trauma (e.g., flashbacks, nightmares, or becoming very upset when reminded of the trauma)
- Avoiding places or people because they remind you of the trauma, isolating yourself from others, and/or feeling numb
- Increased sensitivity (e.g., feeling on guard, irritability, trouble sleeping)
- Often presents with secondary issues (e.g. depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts)
PTSD must be diagnosed by a certified clinician. If you or someone you know has experienced any of these symptoms, contact your doctor, or a registered mental health professional to discuss them.
- Parliamentary Secretary Michel Picard Chairs a National Roundtable on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Minister Goodale issues statement on Government Response to SECU Report
- Study on operational stress injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder in public safety officers and first responders
- Ministerial Roundtable on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Public Safety Officers
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