I had the privilege of witnessing and being a part of a ‘tipping point’ event last Thursday. A ‘tipping point’ is” that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” The Kitchener Fire Department held an event for the firefighters and their partners to honour Mental Health week. A very well respected career firefighter, Doug Sharp, began the series of three talks. He spoke about the importance of being aware of critical incident stress, cumulative stress and PTSD if you don’t want to become ‘that guy’. And then he disclosed that after a series of really bad calls and line of duty deaths he had become ‘That Guy’. He spoke eloquently about the horrific calls that had triggered it, how he had gone for help and how he had felt better as a result. The room was quiet, respectful and when he was done they gave him a standing ovation. It was an indescribable moment. Through his combined action of disclosing he has struggled with mental health issues and the respect he has as a firefighter in that organization, he broke the doors down for others in that department to process unresolved trauma.....and maintain their pride!!! There were 6 new recruits in the room and they will have their careers in a healthier, kinder environment. They will be able to work in an organization where it is still expected for you to put your feelings aside to do your job but it is recognized that you are a whole person who can be triggered by the horrors of what you see and do and deserve to have their support to process those calls. I watched and was impressed by the management and colleagues who openly congratulated him for his courage. Mental health professionals can teach and support all they want but in the end it is the culture that the First Responder is embedded in that will have the most significant impact upon their mental health. Doug’s talk will have shifted the culture and attitudes of the people working alongside of him. I will wait and see if the attitude and significance of this spreads to other First Responder organizations and in the meantime I am just proud to know the people at the Kitchener Fire Department and watch as they lead the pack re: taking care of the mental health of their employees.
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