PTSD help needed

PTSD sur­vivor en­cour­ages fire chiefs to get help for suf­fer­ing fire­fight­ers

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY COLIN MA­CLEAN

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.”

COLI MA­CLEAN/TC MEDIA

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.

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