Thank you again to The Agenda for this amazing opportunity.
Former Simcoe County and Peel Region paramedic turned author, Natalie Harris, pens raw and honest memoir about her battle with PTSD, depression, addiction and suicide titled Save-My-Life School, ISBN 978-1-894813-91-4.
In 2012, Harris attended a grizzly double murder that caused her to spiral into a challenging battle with mental illness. As part of her recovery, she started a blog that has since had almost 200,000 hits and grabbed the attention of Canada’s favourite Olympian and mental health advocate, Clara Hughes who wrote the Foreword for this title.
Clara Hughes writes, “There is no one audience for Natalie’s writings; I truly feel she writes for us all.”
Harris’s book, Save-My-Life School expands on her recovery process, giving a real-life glimpse into the mind and thoughts of someone suffering with mental illness. In the second week after its release this January, the book reached the #2 spot on the Amazon.ca Kindle Store’s “Hot New Memoir List,” one spot ahead of Anderson Cooper’s The Rainbow Comes.
Harris will be at the Eaton Centre Indigo, April 3rd for a book signing from 6 – 8 p.m.
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I am about to broach a sensitive subject. Retired paramedic Mindy Piva and I had the opportunity to have coffee with the Vice President and Executive Director of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) today. The informal meeting was extremely positive and productive – this is where I’m am expecting the ‘sensitivity’ of this subject to emerge. Today I am going to share a story of progress, and by doing so Mindy and I want to be very clear that this is not to ignore the pain and hardships of the past. We want want to encourage hope, and share how change is happening, but while always acknowledging the losses so many families have, and still continue to face. We also want to share our gratitude for all the other voices on this mission with us!
For many years the letters ‘WSIB’ and the words ‘positive’ and ‘productive’ have rarely crossed paths in the same sentence. After personally reading dozens of impact statements and hearing hundreds of stories about the losses so many of our first responder family members have experienced after battling to have a psychological injury claim approved, (some which I myself have experienced) I have extreme empathy with regards to all aspects of this subject. With that being said, Mindy and I are going to do our best to move forward with a positive voice, and be extremely grateful for the opportunity provided to us today.
Bill 163- Ontario’s First Responder’s Bill, has opened the doors to obtaining the help so many first responders need. In my opinion, one of the most important things this Bill has done is prompt necessary discussion about the reality of psychological injuries. Stigma is lessening, and awareness campaigns are in full swing. This is amazing! But now one year later there is definitely lots more work to do.
Today, Mindy and I shared the following suggestions and information:
- We recommended Mental Health First Aid training for every case manager in order to improve sympathetic communication skills with often vulnerable, acutely injured first responders.
- We recommended the implementation of first responders as consultants to aid in the translation of cultural lingo and language in order to lessen the number of potential anxiety-producing phone calls in the early stages of a claim.
- We recommended the provision of peer-support contact information (external from the first responder’s employer/service) as soon as a claim has been made.
- We shared detailed information about triggers and symptoms in which someone without a psychological injury would not be able to fully comprehend.
- We shared that specialized earplugs should be a compensateable expense.
- We discussed the possibility of receiving funding to initiate a peer support evidence-based study. (And provided contact information of professionals who we feel could implement this).
- We discussed the importance of providing structured peer-support to the WSIB case managers themselves.
- We discussed MP Todd Doherty’s Federal PTSD Bill C-211, and how we felt that it was necessary to implement our suggestions in order to lead the way with respect to modelling a comprehensive and successful provincial psychological claims process.
- We discussed the development of a formal committee to allow for other first responder’s and services to share their progressive suggestions.
I am firm believer in the quote by Martin Luther King Jr.,”Love is the only force capable of changing an enemy into a friend”. And on the eve of the presentation of Canada’s PTSD Framework Bill, Mindy and I are happy to go to sleep knowing that friend’s were made today, and that even though it many not be easy sometimes, positive change is always possible.
April 5th, 2016 will always be a day to remember! Seven years of fighting by SO MANY amazing people (of which I was only part of for 2 years) for the recognition of the toll our careers take on our mental health. There’s LOTS more work to be done.
Stay tuned for an upcoming article in the Canadian Paramedicine magazine documenting the time line of the PTSD Bill’s past seven years, and of the fight that Toronto Advanced Care Paramedic Shannon Bertrand so bravely started so that April 5th, 2016 could one day become a reality.
A huge thank you to Fire Fighting Canada for this wonderful post in their magazine!
Maria Church | Assistant Editor
Fire Fighting in Canada | Canadian Firefighter