The Ontario government’s new initiative with respect to post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) should be welcome news for employers of first responders, such as police officers, paramedics, firefighters, 911 operators, or any other employees whose role involves responding to crisis. According to a new press release, the province is putting in place a number of new programs to help prevent or mitigate the risk of PTSD.

The province defines PTSD as:

…clinically significant distress and impairment to functioning, and the development of certain types of symptoms following exposure to one or more traumatic events. It can include painful flashbacks, nightmares, outbursts, thoughts of suicide and feelings of worry, guilt or sadness.

The province’s programs are based in part on the Report from the Summit on Work-Related Traumatic Mental Stress, which was released in March 2015.  That study found, among other things, that first responders are twice as likely as the general population to suffer from PTSD due to the risk of routine exposure to traumatic stressors.

Some of the initiatives include:

  • a new radio and digital campaign designed to increase awareness of PTSD among first responders and their families and to eliminate the stigma around the disease;
  • an annual summit hosted by the Minister of Labour to address PTSD in first responders;
  • the provision of an online toolkit with resources for employers of first responders; and
  • new research grants related to the prevention of PTSD.

The government’s stated focus is providing employers with the resources they need to support first responders at risk of PTSD.  There are no details as of yet on what this “toolkit” might entail.

The employers most impacted by this announcement will be those who provide first responder services or employ first responders.  These employers may wish to take advantage of whatever new programs are offered by the government, particularly if those programs are preventative.  Traumatic Mental Stress has been recognized by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board as a compensable injury, and anything employers can do to reduce these types of injuries will reduce costs in the long run.

Preventive measures may be particularly important if the government amends the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act to create a rebuttable presumption of Traumatic Mental Stress in first responders as was proposed in legislation prior to the 2014 election, although the legislation does not appear to have been revived since.