Heroes are Human: Conference Highlights Need to Support First Responders

“The Mane Intent horses helped me by showing me it is ok to be vulnerable, to be open to the experience and to feel the deep emotions the horses bring.” Participant, Equine Support for Post-Traumatic Growth

“This was an absolutely amazing, positive experience.” Participant, Equine Support for Post-Traumatic Growth

I had an opportunity to attend the Tema Conter Memorial Trust’s annual education conference on mental health themed Common Threads on February 26, 2016. After attending the scene of the brutal murder of 25-year-old Tema Conter in 1988, former paramedic Vince Savoia suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Not officially diagnosed until years later, Vince chose to use his experience to help others, and founded The Tema Conter Memorial Trust in 2001.

The organization recognizes that the men and women of Canada’s public safety, military, and correctional organizations witness traumatic events as part of their daily routine. Yet they continue to perform their essential duty, often in the face of unspeakable tragedy and danger. Through research, education, and training, and through the provision of peer and psychological support, this charity aims to help these ‘first responders’ when they need it most.

This was the 9th year the charity hosted its annual educational conference on mental health and the standing room only ballroom at the Hilton Garden Inn in Vaughn would suggest this topic is top of mind with first responders across Canada with over 500 participants representing fire, police, paramedics, corrections officers, veterans and nurses.

Research shows that first responders are at least twice as likely as the general population to suffer from a stress disorder, due to the routine exposure to traumatic stressors. The statistics shared by Tema Conter Memorial Trust on its web site are staggering:

  • 2016 – to date: 11 first responders and 2 military member have died by suicide
  • 2015: 39 first responders and 12 military members have died by suicide.
  • Between April 29 and December 31, 2014: 27 first responders died by suicide.
  • In 2014: 19 military personnel died by suicide. 

The Ontario government announced earlier this year that new initiatives are being put in place to help prevent or diminish the risk of stress disorders among first responders. Ontario’s prevention strategy focuses on four major elements, including creation of a radio and digital campaign aimed at increasing awareness about stress disorders among first responders, their families and communities while eliminating stigma.

“We are rescuers so it is hard for us to admit vulnerabilities,” notes Peterborough Chief of Paramedics Randy Mellow in a recent interview featured in the Peterborough Examiner. Chief Mellow, who also serves as the president of Paramedic Chiefs of Canada, adds: “We as leaders feel we are in a crisis.”

“We need to work among the entire first responders and armed forces communities on the stigma and issues and breaking down any barriers for first responders to reach out for help,” Chief Mellow says.

While not designed or intended to replace more commonly used treatments, facilitated equine experiential learning can be used together with traditional forms of therapy to help first responders experience greater wellness and stress management. Participants in our Equine Support for Post Traumatic Growth Workshop have noted their day learning together with horses was a “game-changing experience”, offering a safe place for personal insight and growth.

For this reason, The Mane Intent is offering a one-day confidential workshop on May 28, 2016 for first responders. Participants in the Equine Relief for First Responders Workshop will work with our gentle herd of horses to:

  • Acknowledge the real, internal and external impact of the repercussions of the first responder role on themselves and those around them
  • Learn to use emotion as information, while creating greater understanding for their personal tolerance level in working with a variety of emotions and develop strategies to release build-up of emotional energy
  • Learn to respond most effectively at work and at home to personal and professional triggers, receiving tools to help manage stress and tension of the job
  • Learn to manage the personal impact of experiences that naturally build up from first responder engagements

No previous horse experience is required – all horse activities are completed on the ground. For details, visit our Events page here or call Jennifer Garland, Owner/Program Director at The Mane Intent at 705-295-6618.


The Mane Intent

March 4, 2016

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