PTSD help needed
PTSD survivor encourages fire chiefs to get help for suffering firefighters
PTSD survivor encouraged fire chiefs at meeting to get help for suffering Canadian firefighters when a Montreal firefighter spoke to a conference in Summerside recently.
Dressed in a smart black firefighter’s dress uniform, several medals pinned to her chest, Nathalie Michaud waited to step on stage at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside.
Her back was straight, her shoulders squared, she seemed to radiate confidence from afar.
But, if anyone had looked a little closer they may have noticed her fidgeting with a small plastic chain, clasped between her hands as she chatted with colleagues.
Michaud, a firefighter and fire investigator from Montreal, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, a potentially debilitating condition that affects many people who have experienced severe psychological shock.
Which Michaud has, again and again, over her career in the fire service.
“It’s very difficult for me to speak in public. As you can probably see,” she said, holding up the chain in her hands.
“That’s just the high level of anxiety. But the message that I want to get across, because I don’t want more suicides to happen, outweighs the anxiety that I have to speak in public. I just want to do it for the brothers and sisters.”
Michaud and her speaking partner, Wayne Jasper, a firefighter from CFB Esquimalt Fire and Rescue in Victoria, B.C., were guests at the recent gathering of the Maritime Fire Chiefs conference in Summerside.
They started speaking publicly together after getting to know each other at a conference a couple of years ago. That wasn’t easy for Michaud, given the nature of her condition.
In 2010, Michaud’s husband, Richard Stringer, who was also her chief, hanged himself in the bay of their fire station. She found him. He’d lost his own battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As if that wasn’t enough, she also helped in the recovery effort at the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001, and she responded to the Lac Megantic catastrophe in 2013.
It wasn’t until after the latter incident that she started to realize that she was not OK, and managed to find some help.
Getting that same help to more of their brothers and sisters on the front line of public safety, who deal with traumatic incidents every day, is what their speaking tour is all about, said Jasper.
Because help is out there, he stressed.
“You can look nationally for resources, you can go on the Internet and look for them. The resources are there, they can be found. We’re trying to make sure that the chiefs all realize that it’s their responsibility to start doing this,” he said.
But the first step is still to get someone to acknowledge that they might need help, said Michaud. And she stressed in her presentation that it is critically important for the friends, colleagues and family of these people to keep pressing the issue and to not give up on people.
“If you see someone struggling, or you think they are, ask them if they’re OK and don’t take the first ‘yeah, yeah, yeah.’ Keep asking. Because eventually we do end up talking.”
Montreal firefighter Nathalie Michaud, a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) survivor and public speaker, chats with her friend and colleague, Wayne Jasper, of CFB Esquimalt, in B.C., before a speaking engagement at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside. Their talk, which brings awareness to PTSD, was part of the recent gathering of Maritime Fire Chiefs.