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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

CAMH applauds legislation recognizing PTSD as workplace health risk for first responders

April 8, 2016 - CAMH’s Work, Stress and Health (WSH) Program is applauding the passage of a bill supporting first responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Bill 163 creates a presumption that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosed in first responders is work-related. The presumption applies to police officers, firefighters, paramedics, certain workers in correctional institutions and secure youth justice facilities, dispatchers of police, firefighter and ambulance services, and emergency response teams. MPP Cheri DiNovo says she’d like to see it expanded to include nurses, special constables, bailiffs and parole officers. “We would like to see some broadening of the scope,” Di Novo told the legislature.

"This legislation is history in the making,” says Dr. Vivien Lee, a clinical psychologist in the WSH program. Dr. Lee and her colleague Dr. Lisa Couperthwaite were on hand at Queen’s Park last week for the passing of Bill 163, Supporting Ontario's First Responders Act.

“I had goose bumps watching the unanimous passing of Bill 163, which will make it much easier for police, paramedics, firefighters, correctional officers, emergency dispatchers, and members of First Nations’ emergency response teams  to receive help for PTSD," says  Dr. Lee.

"Ontario is putting first responders first -- a truly historic day," added colleague Dr. Lisa Couperthwaite.


CAMH staff with Labour Minister Kevin Flynn 
(L to R) CAMH’s Dr. Lisa Couperthwaite and Dr. Vivien Lee with Labour Minister Kevin Flynn and Natalie Harris, Simcoe County Paramedic Services at a Queen’s Park reception following passage of Bill 163. Minister Flynn anticipates CAMH will have a role supporting municipalities and employers in their prevention planning efforts.


“Our hope is that this legislation will enable first responders to receive help quickly, allowing for early psychological intervention and a safe, successful return to work,” says WSH Manager Brittany Stein.

“CAMH’s Work Stress and Health program is heavily involved in promoting the importance of prevention and improved access to timely mental health services, including PTSD prevention and treatment for First Responders across Ontario,” she says.

Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn says he anticipates that CAMH’s WSH clinic will have a role supporting municipalities and employers in their prevention planning efforts.

Linda Callander, Director of CAMH’s Business Development Office, says CAMH looks forward to playing a key role in supporting this new legislation as well as helping to profile the importance of understanding PTSD, Occupational Stress Injuries and their impacts on First Responders in our communities.

Research has shown that first responders have more than twice the risk of developing PTSD compared to the general population due to the highly stressful and often frequent traumatic encounters endemic to their work. In addition, the rates of suicide among first responders is even higher than amongst military personnel. Across the various first responder groups, paramedics are at the greatest risk of developing PTSD at an estimated rate of 22 per cent.

Brittany Stein says this new legislation is also promoting much needed discussion about trauma prevention measures and a focus on resiliency training across Ontario.  On March 22, Dr. Donna Ferguson, CAMH WSH Psychologist, testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.  The Committee is studying the issue of PTSD and Operational Stress Injuries (OSI) in first responders and public safety personnel with the intention of developing a national framework.

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