CMHA offers mental health program for fire fighters

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) expands its Resilient Minds program from British Columbia and Prince Edward Island into the Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.This program, the first of its kind, brings formal psycho-education to fire halls and departments nationwide, mitigating occupational stress and trauma responses, while building healthier teams. 

Co-developed by CMHA Vancouver-Fraser with Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services in 2016, Resilient Minds is an evidence-based, peer-led, skills and resilience development training program designed by and for fire fighters.

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To date, Resilient Minds has successfully equipped fire fighters across B.C. and P.E.I. with skills to safeguard their psychological health. The program is designed for both career and volunteer fire fighters and is quickly becoming a sought-after program in the fire-fighting community across the country.

“Firefighters work hard to protect our communities, and Resilient Minds can help protect their mental health,” said Margaret Eaton, National CEO, CMHA. “This program keeps fire fighters well and teaches them how to identify psychological stress and trauma in themselves, their peers and members of the public. CMHA is proud to be offering Resilient Minds to more first responders nationwide.”

Fire fighters are exposed to significant trauma as a result of their work and require skills to safeguard their psychological health, skills that are not taught as part of their technical training. This skill deficit not only puts them at risk of developing a psychological illness, but contributes to a high rate of suicide amongst fire fighters; 30 per cent higher than the general population.

Retired Fire Chief Darrell Reid said, “Prior to retiring from my role as Fire Chief for Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS), I had the opportunity to work closely with VFRS teams and CMHA as we rolled the Resilient Minds program out to our firefighters and command staff. The evidence-based, proactive design of Resilient Minds, combined with robust ongoing assessment of results to drive continuous improvement of the program, allowed it to evolve quickly into an important tool for the mental health and wellness of our staff. I experienced the program not only as a Chief but also as a participant, and found that the well-designed peer delivery model was key to establishing trust and reducing stigma for VFRS members. Firefighters can experience both significant and cumulative occupational stressors, and Resilient Minds provides information, strategies and techniques for firefighters at any point in their career to support their resilience and that of their team members.”

Recognizing that many other first responders, such as paramedics and nurses are in need of this training, CMHA is prepared and eager to begin adapting Resilient Minds for other first response sectors. There is a clear need for evidence-based solutions to support first responders in a way that is specific to their occupational stressors. CMHA is dedicated to promoting mentally healthy cultures and behaviours within fire services more broadly.

About Resilient Minds

Resilient Mindshas supported hundreds of fire fighters in BC to develop strategies to mitigate and better manage occupational stress, resulting in informed and healthier teams. Fire fighters learn to a) recognize the effects of psychological stress/trauma in themselves and in peers, b) communicate with peers who may be struggling, c) respond promptly, safely and appropriately to distressed citizens, and d) apply personal strategies for managing stress, mitigating trauma and boosting resilience.

• Innovative and Evidence-Informed – Resilient Minds is a skills and resilience development training course designed by and for fire fighters using the latest literature on resilience, stress and stress-related injuries.

• Fire Fighters Train Fire Fighters – Using a peer-to-peer model of instruction, the Resilient Minds curriculum is taught by fire fighters to fire fighters.

• Volunteer and Career Fire Fighters – Resilient Minds is the only training program designed to train both career and volunteer fire fighters and takes into consideration the differences in experience and resources available to the two groups.