Fire Fighting in Canada

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Comment: The mental health maze

May 1, 2023 
By Laura Aiken

Did you know that there are only two titles in the mental health field that can provide you with a medical and legally permissible mental health diagnosis? Only a psychologist or a psychiatrist can do this for you. This was news to me, amongst many other things I learned from Nick Halmasy’s informative article on page 38 that breaks down the terminology and services of mental health providers. 

By the time someone is reaching a crisis point with their mental health, it is likely very difficult to wade through the decision of what do next; of where to seek help, not to mention a time consuming task to do so. When Nick came to me with this article idea, I thought it was an extremely useful tool to put together. Learning about resources and retaining the knowledge can only help should one reach the point where they need support. 

In March, I completed workplace mental health training through The Working Mind and am grateful for this education provided by my employer. It is not only an opportunity to self-reflect, but a chance to learn how to speak respectfully about mental health and be aware of the signs that someone around me may be moving towards the unwell end of the spectrum. 

The Working Mind program identified its “Big 4” methods for building resilience: deep breathing, mental rehearsal, goal setting and positive self-talk. These techniques also benefit from practice to integrate them into how we manage ourselves. Providing education is the first step. Are there ways to support staff with the practice and integration piece? How helpful it would be if coping skills became second nature and one had a good handle on when they were sliding towards a dangerous place. But everyone is unique, and so remain the challenges.  


Ideally, we are doing the preventative maintenance that helps keep us in a healthy place. Realistically, how we care for ourselves and how we respond to events in our lives is incredibly complex and fluctuating. The fire service and society at large are still working to break down stigma and barriers to normalize conversations around mental health. I feel we have come a long way. There are many mental health champions in Fire, and, for example, seeing Chief Matthew Pegg share in the media that he does his “check-up from the neck up” are impactful demonstrations of leadership. Mental health continues to be topical at every fire chief’s association conference I’ve seen the agenda for. 

I have no doubt the fire service intends to keep the momentum going. Progress takes time. Take great pride in how far the conversation has come.

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