Lasting effects of PTSD
First responders share stories leading up to mental health symposium
The effects of an emergency can last long after the lights and sirens are off, for not only those involved, but the first responders too.
The result is often post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health problem that develops after experiencing or witnessing something traumatic.
Breaking Barriers, a mental health support system, is hosting a mental health symposium for first responders in Summerside on Sept. 16 where responders can tell their stories, listen to others, and perhaps get the support and tools they need to cope.
Kent Cooke was a paramedic for 23 years, and for him, it was everything he has seen over his career that contributed to his PTSD. Attending to everything from cardiac arrests to motor vehicle accidents and industrial accidents, there isn’t much time to recharge after the call, said Cooke.
“We never have time to decompress; it all seems to build up. We get a call, drop a patient off, and we’re back out there.”
Having a support system is important to Cooke, and his wife is a big part of that.
First responders don’t always get the choice of leaving work at the office, often taking the stressful experiences home with them.
“It started to affect my home life. I didn’t want to go anywhere, not even to Christmas dinner with my wife’s family.”
Medication is a necessity for Cooke, taking eight to nine pills a night, he said.
However, it’s the one he doesn’t take that keeps him calm in a crowd.
He was recently diagnosed with anxiety and was prescribed Ativan.
“I haven’t taken one yet though; something about just the bottle being in my pocket helps.”
The bottle doesn’t keep away the sirens though. The lights and sirens bring it all back for Cooke. He has to pull his car over, turn the music up loud, close his eyes, and wait for it to pass.
Relaxation is important to him. He cuts grass, reads, tends to his hobby farm, and colours to relax.
Julia Somers, a former paramedic, also tried colouring to relax her mind.
“It was so frustrating. Those adult colouring books are hard,” she added.
She was a volunteer firefighter for years and loved it, then took the next step to become a paramedic.
But being a firefighter and paramedic became too much for her, she admitted.
On her days off, she would be at the fire hall. There were no breaks.
She was a paramedic for only two years, and although her career with EMS was short, it wasn’t easy.
“It was a lot of small events in a short amount of time,” Somers said, describing the cause of her PTSD.
Although she has yet to be officially diagnosed due to a long waitlist and few resources, her doctor and therapist are treating her for PTSD.
Her large family support system and medication help a lot, she said.
Somers will be one of the speakers at the mental health symposium on Sept. 16 at the Loyalist Lakeview Resort in Summerside.
Events like this help a lot,
To anyone silently dealing with PTSD, both Cooke and Somers strongly urge speaking to someone about it, whether that is a colleague, friend or family member.
“There’s so much hope. I know it doesn’t feel like it when you’re in it, but I was in it and now I’m out,” said Somers.
Julia Somers, volunteer firefighter and former paramedic, will be one of the speakers at the Breaking Barriers mental health symposium coming up in Summerside.
Kent Cooke, former paramedic of 23 years will be one of many in attendance at the mental health symposium for first responders on Sept. 16.