CMHA providing online help for first responders

File photo by © Can Stock Photo / dundanim

First responders already deal with stressful situations, which have only intensified in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Windsor-Essex County chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has launched WeHelpFirst.ca, a website intended to be the first point of contact for first responders who are dealing with mental health issues.

Kim Willis, a spokesperson for the CMHA Windsor-Essex County, said the website is the latest tool to be used in the fight against the stigma of mental illness.

“This website will be a ‘go-to’ resource for first responders and their families who are experiencing mental health and addiction challenges,” said Willis. “We know stigma continues to be an issue for many people as it relates to mental illness. This can be heightened in first responder professions. The website is another anonymous tool that can be accessed by anyone.”

The site provides an instant phone link for any police officer, firefighter, paramedic, or other first responders who are dealing with a mental health crisis. With a click of a button, people can be put in touch with a mental health professional, or be connected to the local crisis centre. The site also provides numerous resources for those dealing with a variety of issues, such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, PTSD, bullying, and other matters.

A 2017 survey by the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry showed an increasing need to help first responders deal with stressful and traumatic situations. Of the participants surveyed, 44.5 per cent screened positive for symptoms that are consistent with a mental illness, a four-fold jump over what Statistics Canada predicts is the rate of mental illnesses among Canadians, roughly 10 per cent of people.

Among the partners CMHA utilized in development of the site are Windsor Police, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, Ontario Provincial Police, Essex-Windsor EMS, Family Services Windsor-Essex, local hospitals, and other agencies.

“This website will contain valuable information and resources to help our first responders when they are in need,” said Inspector Tammy Fryer of the Windsor Police Special Projects Unit. “We believe that putting the mental health and wellness of our first responders at the forefront will serve to support them as they work tirelessly to keep our communities safe.”

The website was developed by students at the St. Clair College Zekelman School of Business and Information Technology.