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First Responder Mental Health Needs
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Addressing Mental Health Needs in the Fire Sector


The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) continues to ask the government for funding to support interim measures to improve access to mental health care and prevention programs. 


In CAFC’s view, there are at least three important points that must be considered when addressing first responder mental health: 


  1. PTSD is not the only mental health issue first responders face. Suicide, depression, alcohol abuse, and  posttraumatic  stress symptoms  are  also prevalent.  We  must prevent  and  reduce these. 
  2. The impact of reducing stigma and promoting understanding of mental health and illness is that people try to get help. What happens when they try to get help? They may run into long wait times or high costs to get help. 
  3. Both prevention and treatment are equally important.  Resilience training for prevention as well as timely and appropriate treatment and recovery are both needed. What can be done in the short term.


As part of the 2018 budget consultation submission, CAFC asked the federal government to consider the following: 


  1. Put the “Road to Mental Health Readiness Program” from the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and DND in fire departments, free of charge, immediately to help prevent the development of mental health issues. Currently, MHCC makes this available on a cost recovery basis. This can be done for $2.5 million.  
  2. Implement the Mental Health Innovation Fund to fund innovations that expedite access to care for a larger number of Canadians, which will also help First Responders. This is also the ask of 16 national health organizations making up the Canadian Alliance of Mental Health and Mental Illness in Mental Health Now! $100M 


The CAFC did not receive these asks in Budget 2018.


Prior to the Federal Budget announcement however, the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT), of which CAFC is one of the members of its Public Safety Steering Committee, received some pilot funding from the federal government to facilitate the training of a limited number of Master Trainers in the Road to Mental Health Readiness Program (R2MR). The Department of National Defense also accorded the distribution rights for R2MR distribution to CIPSRT.


In Budget 2018, CIPSRT and the primary federal granting agency for health research, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) were allocated the following as described on pages 209-210 in the Federal Budget:


“There is a lack of research dedicated to understanding post-traumatic stress injuries among public safety officers. This limits our ability to effectively support those who keep us safe. To address this knowledge gap, the Government proposes to provide $20 million over five years, beginning in 2018-19, to support a new national research consortium between the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment. This new consortium will work to address the incidence of post-traumatic stress injuries among public safety officers.


Access to mental health supports can be particularly hard to attain for public safety officers in rural and remote areas. The Government proposes to invest $10 million over 5 years, starting in 2018-19, for Public Safety Canada to work with the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment to develop an Internet-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy pilot as a means of providing greater access to care and treatment for public safety officers across Canada".


While CAFC is very supportive of these Budget 2018 announcements, the CAFC is asking the Federal Government, CIPSRT and CIHR to carefully consider how the levers of health research can be used to make near term improvements in first responder mental health. As noted by CIHR and others [references], there can be a long-delay for research to change practice, unless this is deliberately addressed.


As such, as part of the CAFC’s 2019 budget consultation submission, CAFC asked the following:


“That the government and the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment [and CIHR]* adjust the planned use of the $30M in funding to:

1. adapt and implement internet based cognitive behaviour therapy so that it is nationally available to first responders (rather than develop and pilot);

2.   adapt and test innovative delivery models that expedite access to care for first responders (rather than study the incidence);

3.   use a portion of the funds to implement and test a resilience training program in all fire departments”. 

*at time of submission CIHR was not in the text, but should have been. 

CAFC's Next Steps 

In 2019, CAFC will introduce a new set of activities related to the mental health and wellness.  It will also refine its asks pending the evolution of existing initiatives. Stay tuned for more information. 



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