Federal government invests $28.2 million in mental health support for first responders


Daniel Sundahl calls it therapy. His art helps him navigate the things he experienced as a paramedic. For nearly two decades of his career, he has known calls beyond what the mind is capable of absorbing.

“It’s my therapy and one of the forms I use to process and purge the emotional impact and memories of the calls I’ve made,” he said.

Sundahl has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and will not return to work.

Sundahl’s work.

Courtesy of Daniel Sundhal

He was inspired by what he saw at work and creates powerful portraits, illustrating the dramatic impact of trauma.

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“We’re supposed to be these superheroes, these infallible people who are unaffected by the trauma we see, and that’s just not the case,” Sundahl said.

“There is a lot more to do. We are growing and learning, but if you look at the number of people who have left the profession, it indicates how critical it is right now.

Sundahl’s work of art.

Courtesy: Daniel Sundahl

Recognizing the professional losses of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government announced that it will invest $28.2 million to be used for nine trauma-focused programs and research for frontline and essential workers.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett, who is also associate minister of health, made the announcement Monday in Regina.

“This investment will provide the tools needed to help more people who are suffering get on the path to recovery,” she said.

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“I hope that as the stigma goes down, those on the front lines will feel supported by these programs.”

Dr. Nicholas Carleton is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Regina and Scientific Director of the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment. The funding announced Monday will go towards research and a virtual wellness center for the families of public safety personnel.

“Across Canada, there are 400,000 nurses and 350,000 public safety workers in all sectors,” Carleton said.

“It is important for Canadians to realize that this is a small group of people who protect us all.

READ MORE: First responders call for more support for them and their families living with PTSD

One of the projects receiving nearly $9 million in funding is managed by Wayfound of Calgary. This is a program for first responders called BOS (Before Operational Stress). It teaches them to manage operational stress. Chief Clinician Dr Megan McElheran said this was a positive step forward.

“Our initial data for our program tells us it was effective,” McElheran said. “We were thrilled to have applied for the funding and to have this funded opportunity to support so many Canadians.

“This is a significant and important time to say there is recognition of the service…and that there is support for them to improve and recover their mental health after what happened over the past two last years.”

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Other projects will help implement and test interventions, develop resources for affected or at-risk populations, and create resources and guidance for service providers and organizations. Projects will reach frontline and essential workers, including healthcare providers, public safety personnel and their families, personal support workers and long-term care workers.

“They’re exhausted because we’ve leaned on them for (the) last two years,” Carleton said. “Many have not had any breaks or vacations and there are reports that they (had) mental health issues before the pandemic.

“They made real sacrifices.”

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