Over the course of my time with Let’s Talk Express (LTE) I have interviewed hundreds of employees about their work. Throughout many of those interviews, the topic of mental health injuries, namely Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), came up though I was never writing articles about it. They would mention it, sometimes in passing, as something they were suffering from or something they suspected their colleagues were. That is why when Commissioner Head sent out a gen-communiqué about the newly formed Steering Committee for Workplace Mental Health Injuries at CSC in October of last year, I proposed we do a series of articles about the topic in an upcoming edition of LTE. I received the go-ahead to do so, and that is what you are reading today.
PTSD and other workplace mental health injuries amongst first responders has been a big topic of discussion in the news lately as police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, and correctional officers lobby for proper legislation that supports them and recognizes PTSD as a work-related illness. The issue, however, is that correctional officers are not recognized as first responders in all provinces. They are in Manitoba and, as of Tuesday, April 5, in Ontario as well. What this means is that correctional officers receive treatment for PTSD much faster because they do not need to prove a causal link between PTSD and a workplace incident. Instead, claims are expedited.
The prevalence of mental health injuries in corrections is nothing new. In 1992, CSC released a research report entitled “Exposure to Critical Incidents: What Are the Effects on Canadian Correctional Officers?” that found after interviewing 122 correctional officers, each one had been exposed to an average of 27.9 job-related critical incidents. 61% reported they received injuries at work, and 43% of these injuries resulted in one week or more off work. In 2003, a study entitled “PTSD in Corrections Employees in Saskatchewan,” found that nearly 80% of corrections employees reported experiencing a traumatic event in the workplace, and the prevalence rate of “probable PTSD” in participants was 25.8%. They stated this rate was comparable to combat veterans, prisoners of war, disaster survivors, and emergency service personnel.
What is new is that we are finally talking about it openly. The Commissioner has expressed his commitment to addressing this important issue at CSC, and I believe that by telling these stories today, we are moving in the right direction.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank each person who shared their stories with me for this edition. Though we share an employer, I was a complete stranger to them, emailing them out of the blue to talk about their personal experiences, some of which they hadn’t shared with anyone other than close loved ones. They jumped at the opportunity to participate in this process not for themselves, but for others who may be suffering in silence.
It wasn’t easy for them. Their stories are difficult and emotional. As one person was walking me through his traumatic experience, he stopped because he realized he hadn’t spoken about the incident in years. He needed to take a moment before continuing on. I was honoured that not only would he and the others share this information with me, but with my colleagues Lindsay Holloway and Jack Seymour who sat in on some of the interviews as well.
It’s my hope that these stories accomplish two things: start an open dialogue about this issue at CSC and encourage those of you who may be struggling in silence to seek help. If you or your loved ones need support, please seek assistance from the Employee Assistance Program at 1-800-268-7708, or talk to a trusted family member, friend, colleague, or family doctor.
Please visit the Workplace Mental Health Injuries infonet page for more information about this important topic as well as resources available to you.