Guest Post: Peer Support for Frontline Responders

At the end of March, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a three day research training hosted by the Canadian Depression Research and Intervention Network and the Mood Disorders Society of Canada. The intent of the training is to position people who have lived experience with mental health challenges and their carers front and centre in research projects across the country. This was a great chance to connect with individuals from across Canada who are creating organizations and sharing their stories and learning with their broader community. It was an inspiring three days and I left with a number of new champions in my network. A few of these people have graciously agreed to write guest posts for my blog. I hope you will be inspired by their initiatives and their stories.

Author: Brad McKay

I had the greatest experience at a training event in Vancouver last month. The training itself was excellent, but the highlight was meeting the other participants who all had lived experience as a survivor of a mental health challenge or supporter of someone with a mental health challenge. One of the participants was Karen Copeland who has asked me to write something for her blog. It is an honour to be asked. I hope you find this useful.

When disaster strikes, most normal people run for cover. Chaos and traumatic events will cause us to seek safety. When most are running out, it is the front line emergency services worker who is running in. Canadian Military, firefighters, police officers, paramedics and others. The rescuer personality is strong. Frontline responders are more resilient than average. Yet the depression and suicide rate in these professions is alarming. Why is this so?

Frontline responders have difficulty asking for help for mental health challenges. The rescuers do not need to be rescued, so they think. The stigma of mental health is a major hurdle in these professions and asking for help has been seen as a weakness. Many frontline responders suffer in silence – for years. Responding to the death of a child, death and serious injury of co-workers, and the accumulation of trauma exposures can overwhelm one’s ability to cope. Often it is the family member who sees the changes first.

Peer Support has been considered one of the most effective methods to provide assistance to frontline responders. It is important that peer supporters be tested and trained.  A trusted colleague who has “ been there” can provide confidential support and resources. It is a great way to get on the path to wellness without jeopardising a career. There are some peer support systems, such as those in the Region of York in Ontario that include family members on the team.  A good peer support program will be as much proactive as it is reactive. Early intervention is key to shortening the path to wellness.

Whether or not you are a frontline emergency services responder, the peer support template can help you. We are all human and we all have real life challenges. Don’t let stigma be the “elephant in the room”.  A formal or informal system in your own family or organization can be your key to wellness, not just for you but for your family or organization, and it is valuable to include your family in the mix. Together we are stronger. Non-judgmental, confidential, validating, and respectful peer support will be the key.

The Mood Disorders Society of Canada has a Peer Support Services section that can provide direction and assistance for those wishing to set up their own system. More information can be found at

S. Sgt. Brad McKay #228 Sep 2013Brad McKay is a Certified Trauma Services Specialist and a Special Advisor to the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.

Brad is an Advisor to the Board at the Tema Conter Memorial Trust and the York Region CISM Team.

As a Director of 228 Solutions Inc, Brad provides services through his company he started in honour of York Regional Police and the community he served for 33 years under badge 228.





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