According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) - Ontario, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is "caused by a psychologically traumatic event involving actual or threatened death or serious injury to oneself or others." It's a type of anxiety disorder where people who experience it can suffer from flashbacks and nightmares where they relive the event that caused them intense fear and horror. As a result, people with PTSD can become emotionally numb, depressed, suicidal and/or dependent on drugs or alcohol.
Last week, the province of Ontario passed the Supporting Ontario's First Responders Act (or Bill 163) - legislation which creates a presumption that PTSD diagnosed in first responders is work-related; and this 'presumption' will allow first responders faster access to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) benefits and proper treatment by psychiatrists and psychologists. Up until now (as I understand it) the WSIB, on various occasions, denied entitlement to workers because the traumatic event that triggered their PTSD was not “unexpected” in the employee’s line of work. So basically, there were several cases of "you knew what you were getting into when you signed up for the job, sooo... tough shit." This makes recent news of Bill 163 in Ontario exciting, right? Absolutely!
But then, the grey area of the matter starts to seep in...
The main downside to the new legislation is that it seems to be exclusionary to some professionals who, in my opinion, should also be covered under the Bill. As it stands, the following professionals are covered under Bill 163:
- Police officers
- Firefighters (part-time, full-time and volunteer firefighters, fire investigators)
- Paramedics, emergency medical attendants, and ambulance services managers
- Emergency response teams
- Correctional officers/youth services workers and certain workers who provide direct health care services in correctional institutions and secure youth justice facilities
- Workers involved in the dispatch of police, firefighter and ambulance services
... Noticeably absent from the list?
- Nurses (hello???)
- Social service and child protection workers
- Group home workers
- Shit... psychiatrists themselves! I imagine that most of us don't really stop to think that even the people who are trained and tasked to help "heal and fix" people with PTSD, can be highly susceptible to PTSD too, right? Well, it happens and it's definitely happened here in Ontario (just have a look).
I suppose one of the issues lies in the murkiness of the term "first responder." Per trusty Wikipedia, "a first responder is an employee of an emergency service who is likely to be among the first people to arrive at and assist at the scene of an emergency, such as an accident, natural disaster, or terrorist attack. First responders typically include police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians. A certified first responder is one who has received certification to provide pre-hospital care in a certain jurisdiction."
When I really look at the last part of that definition, I think that teachers, nurses and workers in group home settings should be included. After all, they too have to go through continuous healthcare-related training in order to maintain their respective designations. And they too are often likely to be the first ones to begin responding to a crisis within their respective work environments.
Perhaps it's because I come from a long line of nurses, teachers and care-givers. Perhaps it's because I have friends, who although they aren't first responders or traditional caregivers in the professional sphere, seem naturally able to deeply internalize the problems and trauma of others. Perhaps it's because I've witnessed how the sudden and violent loss of a family member can send someone who was once close to me, spiraling into a dark place where all they wanted to do was numb the trauma by drinking excessively... I don't know.
For the time being, what I can say is that on its face, Bill 163 seems to be a huge step forward for Ontario (or one long overdue, depending on which province you ask). There's just a lot still lacking in the legislation to make it fully functional and inclusive. Ideally, this issue would be a matter of simple semantics, where a quick rewording or renaming of the legislation would suffice, to include all front-line health/patient care workers in the Bill.
But as we all know, aside from promptly snatching our hard-earned dollars come tax season, getting the government to move quickly on anything is never a simple task...