Canadian First Responder Suicides Stress Vital Need for Support

It’s an issue we’ve heard about before, and unfortunately it’s making headlines again. First responders are committing suicide, this time in Canada, at an alarming rate – 15 of them have killed themselves since May.

We all know their line of work is difficult to say the least, but they shouldn’t be feeling that suicide is the only way out. There should be enough support for their mental health that they get help when they need it, and don’t resort to self-harm or suicide.

The issue of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is being brought to light, particularly with the most recent report of a firefighter in Edmonton, Alberta killing himself.

The CBC provided the details in an article on its website: “At the end of July, 38-year-old Edmonton firefighter Brad Symes took his life, leaving behind his wife of seven months, two young boys, loving parents and countless friends — and his family is linking his death to PTSD.”

Symes was a firefighter for 13 years.

So what is being done to stop these suicides and help first responders? Well, in Ontario, the provincial government is finalizing a report that may be ready for release in the next few weeks, according to an article by Global News. This is coming about two years after a roundtable on job-related PTSD was first announced by the ministry of labor.

Yasir Naqvi, the community safety and correctional services minister, said these 15 suicides are “disturbing” and highlight the need to take “concrete actions” to recognize and prevent mental illness, according to Global News.

In the Global News article, Dr. Jeff Morley, a clinical psychologist and 23-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), shed some light on whether emergency workers are more likely to kill themselves than people in other professions.

“If, for example, lifetime prevalence of PTSD in the general population is five to eight percent, in first responders, it’s, depending on the study you looked at, 16 to 25 percent,” said Morley.

Morley said it’s no surprise the rates are higher for emergency workers, because they can see hundreds of traumatic experiences in their careers. Compare that to the fact that a person can develop PTSD after experiencing just one traumatic event.

“Given the sometimes hundreds of exposures to traumatic events that first responders face, you know, I actually think that rates are relatively decent. I mean overall, we’re a pretty resilient bunch, given what we go through,” said Morley.

Global News included some shocking details from a paper Morley wrote in 2010 about the effects police work has on mental health. Here are those details as they appeared in the article:

  • 11 percent reported suicidal thoughts as a result of the job
  • Seven to nine percent suffered PTSD
  • 33 percent were diagnosed with partial PTSD
  • 74 percent reported having recurring memories of work-related incidents
  • 54 percent actively avoided reminders of a workplace incident
  • 54 percent reported “often” feeling physically, emotionally or spiritually depleted
  • 88 percent said work affected their families


For more information, see our sources below: