Holding the Line
Supporting the listening ears outside our agencies
By Michelle Vincent
As our nation focuses on the mental health of first responders and resources that are available to support our needs, more and more of those organizations that are already established and proven to work are coming to mind.
I mentioned in my last column that there are a variety of excellent resources many members may not be aware of, both for-profit as well as non-profit. Some of these organizations I have experienced on a personal level as a volunteer mental health facilitator. One of them is Badge of Life Canada and their Hero’s Call and SOLE Sistas retreat programs.
These programs offer first responders weekend and five-day opportunities to explore and reflect on the range of mental health issues that may be affecting them, including Post-traumatic Stress Disorder/symptoms, Operational Stress Injury, depression, anxiety, etc. The beauty of this program is it is run by dedicated, retired first responders who have experienced mental health challenges of their own. They understand the job, the cultural pressures and they “get” the mental health dynamics that often result in challenges within the family and workplace.
Ironically, as I write this article, I am focused on writing Chapter Two of my dissertation for my final PhD requirement, which consists of an in-depth analysis through literature review of programs available for police — programs supported by their organization. I am fortunate I work for an organization that supports our members’ participation in wellbeing in these various programs. In saying that, not all organizations have the resources (or even have the information on resources) such as this to provide to their members. While there are many evidentiary articles noting the benefits of resources provided by peers, either past or present, the most popular one is by Evans et al. (2013).
This study found that when non-judgmental support was offered through the listening ear(s) of persons outside of the organization, the likelihood of incurring an Operational Stress Injury was less. This author notes it is the perceived availability of this resource that affects the relationship between resources and the development of a serious mental health issue, such as PTSD/OSI/depression/anxiety.
One of the most important pieces non-profits tend to bring is the networking and ensuing relationships created through peers and program providers. Hero’s Call and SOLE Sistas provides team-building, leadership and educational support through equine activities, ropes courses and spiritual activities all in within the restoring power of mother nature. These smaller non-profits provide opportunity for attendance for all through their low-cost, volunteer-driven programming.
There are many other non-profits providing outstanding first responder programming/services who are also so worthy of mention here. These include: Wounded Warrior Canada, Boots on the Ground and La Vigile in Quebec, which is soon to expand into Ontario as The Haven.
Let’s explore what these organizations can provide and spread the word so we can support increased and prioritized funding and collaboration.
Michelle Vincent is a 17-year York Regional Police officer with a master of arts in counselling psychology and a background in equine-assisted therapy, workplace reintegration after a critical incident and long-term leave, as well as teaching. She is in the process of implementing the first non-profit treatment centre that will be occupationally specific for first responders and is working towards her PhD in Forensic Psychology/Crisis Response. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.