Alternative wellness for Ontario first responders coming soon
By Jason Unsworth
Boots on the Ground (BOTG) is a non-profit organization, operated by a dedicated team of current and former first responders. It is slated to officially launch this fall and currently boasts a group of over 60 volunteers. The peer-to-peer support model is completely confidential, offering an opportunity for first responders seeking help to meet face-to-face and talk with fellow first responders.
By Jason Unsworth
A client’s confidentiality is important to us. It’s important those who are suffering come forward to seek and accept help and support. All BOTG volunteers will be trained in peer support and suicide prevention training.
BOTG incorporates an over-the-phone and “two-on-one” in person peer support model. What this means is we will speak with individuals over the phone and, if needed, dispatch two trained volunteers to provide peer support in person. This is what makes this organization stand out from other support resources currently available.
BOTG will offer an alternative to current wellness programs being offered through employers. We believe that employer wellness programs are under-utilized because of fears associated with social stigma as well as confidentiality concerns. By keeping BOTG completely separate from employee wellness programs, the hope is that more people will utilize the available services. These services include face-to-face and over-the-phone peer support, providing contact numbers for professional assistance, and answering any questions.
BOTG services will be open to police service members as well as fire, EMS and corrections employees (including retired members). The organization is working on recruiting members from all first responders across Ontario.
BOTG is establishing a web site and a toll free 1-800 number to be included on the site so people can call for immediate assistance. Volunteers on their own cell phones will answer calls to their number, allowing 24/7 support services, so that nobody has to sit in an office waiting for a call.
BOTG was founded by retired police officer Dave McLennan. McLennan says he is dedicated to serving the community and is passionate about the impact exposure and trauma can have on police officers and other first responders. His vision is to bring a group of dedicated volunteers together to help make a difference in someone’s life.
In 2017, media reported how results from Canada’s first national survey looking at operational stress injuries among first responders suggest they are much more likely to develop a mental disorder than the general population.
The research was conducted online between September 2016 and January 2017 by a group of mental health experts from across the country. It is published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.
Of the 5,813 participants, 44.5 per cent “screened positive for clinically significant symptom clusters consistent with one or more mental disorders.”
Statistics Canada has reported that the rate for the general population is 10 per cent.
Jason Unsworth is a detective with Peel Regional Police with 20 years of experience. He has worked in Brampton and Mississauga, in uniform patrol, Neighbourhood Policing Unit, Criminal Investigation Bureau and the Special Victims Unit. Jay is one of the founding members of Boots on The Ground and he is a member of the steering committee.