Post-Traumatic Stress Injury: Hearing, Helping, Healing

ptsi-blue-sky-black-cloud

Jim Regimbal chaired the Yukon Employees’ Union’s recent Human Rights panel discussions of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury.  As Dawson City’s Fire Chief, President of the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs, and Yukon’s Director on the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, he has advocated for improved services to first responders suffering from PTSI and has been instrumental in bringing the issue into focus in Yukon.  He provided powerful empathy and insight earned from his many years on the job. 

The first step is acknowledging and accepting that, whatever name it’s given, Post-Traumatic Stress Injury is real and that trauma significant enough to cause injury can’t easily be quantified. The science supports this, with mountains of evidence explaining the changes to brain structure caused by exposure to trauma. We can’t choose not to “believe in PTSI” any more than we can choose not to believe in climate change. The evidence is clear and the science is irrefutable.

PTSI can be the result of a sudden, dramatic incident but it is just as likely to develop invisibly over many years.  Its onset can come without warning, sometimes after a seemingly benign event.  Whitehorse Psychologist Nicole Bringsli used a water glass analogy; a glass can hold only so much liquid.  All it takes is one too many ordinary, inconsequential drops of water and the glass spills over.  We can witness and contain only so much pain and trauma before we reach our capacity to cope and, like the water glass, we risk spilling over.

What constitutes trauma?  There’s no easy answer. Trauma that affects one individual very profoundly can sometimes be borne by another, or can be overcome with access to the right kind of support at the right time.  Bringsli reminded us that each individual brings their own history and sensibilities to their work, and each person responds differently to similar circumstances.

What occupations or events are likely to lead to psychological injury?  Combat veterans, first responders like firefighters, police officers, EMS providers, dispatchers and corrections officers witness things they can’t ever forget, scenes and calls that will affect them forever.  A career of running into burning buildings, delivering terrible news or fighting to save lives takes an enormous toll on the heart and psyche.  There are many lines of work that put people at risk, and it’s important to recognize the danger so we can provide appropriate resources to all those who need them.

Many caring professions are occupied predominantly by women, and many struggle silently with the emotional impacts of that difficult work. Though rarely labelled PTSI, the ongoing emotional trauma has the same impact on quality of life and mental health. It’s time to consider how broadly affected both men and women are by their work, and how many professions are high risk for psychological injury.

Social workers face heartbreaking situations in the line of duty. Removing children from dangerous homes, denying parental access and leaving vulnerable children in foster situations takes a terrible toll. Sheena Larose, a former Child Protective Services worker from Ontario recently wrote “Unless you are in the trenches, people don’t understand that child protection work can be among the most intensive, heart-wrenching and volatile work one could ever encounter.”

Social workers counsel child abuse victims and must bear witness for their frightened and confused young clients. When we talk about social workers’ emotional health, we often say they have “burned out”… we don’t consider PTSI as a likely outcome.  Vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue – whatever we call it, the results can be life altering and career limiting.

Front line workers in shelters for domestic violence victims face recurring trauma – imagine the daily challenge of maintaining a healthy outlook when you’re immersed in the pain of others.  How hard must it be to turn a woman away when your facility has no space, knowing she and her children have no choice but to return to a dangerous home?  These workers must also remain anonymous to protect the security of those they help, and so they often have no choice but to struggle in silence, without recognition or support.

Prevention is more valuable than cure; our panel members spoke again and again of the urgent need for effective critical incident de-briefing practices, currently almost non-existent in Yukon. They talked of the need for trained peer support, for non-judgemental listening and for access to counselling services. Other jurisdictions have comprehensive supports we haven’t even begun to consider here in the Territory. 

When our panel was asked for a wish list to help combat Post-Traumatic Stress Injury, there was consensus on the need for critical incident debriefing, for pro-active discussion and peer support. More funding is needed to ensure local mental health service providers are resourced to provide care when it’s needed. Employers must prioritize worker safety and be as diligent in protecting the minds and spirit of their employees as they are about their physical well-being.    

Jeannie Dendys, Yukon’s new Minister responsible for the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health & Safety Board offered her commitment to supporting PTSI prevention & treatment.  YWCHSB Chair Kurt Dieckmann stressed the role of the employer and the value of prevention.  It’s important to make sure protections are built into work environments likely to experience critical stress and trauma.  Normalizing help-seeking behaviour will go far, he says, to de-stigmatizing PTSI and making work safer.

How we respond to our injured colleagues, neighbours and family members, is an indicator of how likely they are to heal.  Forcing sufferers to convince us of their injury, prove its cause and defend their need for help adds insult to injury and creates barriers sometimes too great to overcome.  During the recent Territorial election campaign, new Premier Sandy Silver promised to amend the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Act to include presumptive provisions for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD/PTSI) in first responders. That commitment was echoed by Minister Dendys at our event.  At YEU we believe presumptive provisions must cover first responders, but that other high risk worker groups must also be included if the system is to protect those at greatest risk of harm.

Our community is compassionate; we are quick to help families in need. We support our sick, injured neighbours when there’s a fire, a death or catastrophic illness. That empathy must extend to the helpers, not just to the victims. 

We invite you to watch the full video recording of our two panel discussions.

Watch The Nature of Things for PTSD: Beyond Trauma

 

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Feeding My Family: Boycott North West Company

NWC 3Yukon Employees’ Union is sharing this post on behalf of our brothers & sisters in northern communities. It’s impossible to comprehend grocery prices such as those shown here. We hope you will join the growing chorus of support and take action to change this punishing reality. It is the responsibility of the North West Company to pass on the savings provided through the federal government’s Nutrition North program. Feeding My Family is a public Facebook group started by Nunavut resident Leesee Papatsie.  Visit the group’s informative website at http://feedingmyfamily.org/


Feeding My Family Boycott on North West Company Saturday January 31, 2015

Feeding My Family would like your help in boycotting North West Company (NWC) owned retailers and service providers located in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon, Alaska and southern Canada. We are asking you not to shop in any North West Company stores or use any of their service providers on Saturday January 31, 2015. Retailers owned by North West Company are; NorthMart, Northern, Giant Tiger, Quickstop, Valu Lots, Solo Market, Price Chopper, Cost-U-Less and Alaskan Commercial (AC) Value Stores. Wholesale and Services include: We Financial and Crescent Multi Food. Feeding My Family is about raising awareness of the high cost of food in the northern regions. When Minute Maid concentrated orange juice is selling for $5.15, you know something is wrong with this picture. There are lots of northerners who are unable to feed themselves and their families due to the high cost of food in the north. We have heard a lot of mothers who are not eating so their children will eat and how 70% of people in Nunavut have experienced hunger at one time or another. There are some northerners that live meal to meal, or if they are lucky, they will have a meal that day. Some families resort to food that are stomach fillers (pasta, rice, hamburger meat – the cheapest meat) to have food in their stomachs, forget nutritional food because they do not have a lot to eat that day. Please help us raise awareness of the high cost of food in the north! Tell your family, friends and others.  Write to your MP about what is happening in the north. If each one of you refuses to shop at any of the NWC’s stores on Saturday January 31, 2015 you will be helping us beat the high cost of food in the north. If even 50 people refuse to shop at each store, we will make a significant financial impact!  Each and every one of us can make a difference, every little bit helps. Stand with us and help us make a difference because we can. We HAVE to!


What can you do?

  1.  BOYCOTT! January 31st is a good day to BEGIN, but it doesn’t have to end there.
  2. Visit http://feedingmyfamily.org/ to learn more about the issues northern families face. Great answers to your questions about the opportunities and challenges, lifestyle and more. Use their contact form to ask questions.
  3. Write your MP!
  4. Join or START a community action group. They have sprung up all over the country in response to THIS Huffington Post Article and one woman’s determination.
  5. Email those in control of the North West Company. Decision makers need to know how you feel.
  6. VOTE October 19th, 2015. Choose a government that considers the needs of its people FIRST.

In case you wish to communicate your concerns directly, here are email contacts for the President & CFO of the North West Company. They are the main food retailer in Canada’s northern communities. You can also read their 3rd quarter financial report to shareholders (dividends paid, sales up!) at the link below. Edward Kennedy, President and CEO, The North West Company Inc. Phone 204-934-1482; fax 204-934-1317; email ekennedy@northwest.ca John King, Chief Financial Officer, The North West Company Inc. Phone 204-934-1397; fax 204-934-1317; email jking@northwest.ca This information is publicly available on the web, for anyone wondering about the “fairness” of sharing the email addresses. Let them know what you think about their profits on the backs of northern families.

Domestic Violence at Work | Canadian Labour Congress

Domestic Violence at Work | Canadian Labour Congress.

initial findings on domestic violence survey

Canadian employers lose $77.9 million annually due to the direct and indirect impacts of domestic violence, and the costs, to individuals, families and society, go far beyond that. However, we know very little about the scope and impacts of this problem in Canada.

The Canadian Labour Congress partnered with researchers at the University of Western Ontario and conducted the first ever Canadian survey on domestic violence in the workplace. We did this because there is almost no data on this issue in Canada and we know that women with a history of domestic violence have a more disrupted work history, are consequently on lower personal incomes, have had to change jobs more often, and more often work in casual and part time roles than women without violence experiences.

Being a perpetrator of domestic violence also significantly impacts a worker and their workplace. A recent study found that 53% of offenders felt their job performance was negatively impacted, 75% had a hard time concentrating on their work, and 19% reported causing or nearly causing workplace accidents due to their violent relationship. Their behaviours lead to a loss of paid and unpaid work time, a decrease in productivity, and safety hazards for their co-workers.

Here are some of the things we learned from this survey:

Experiences of Domestic Violence

prevalence and gender

A third (33.6%) of respondents reported ever experiencing domestic violence from an intimate partner, and there were differences by gender (figure 2).

Aboriginal respondents, respondents with disabilities, and those indicating a sexual orientation other than heterosexual (e.g., lesbian, gay or bisexual) were particularly likely to have reported experiencing DV in their lifetime. In terms of indirect domestic violence experience, 35.4% of respondents reported having at least one co-worker who they believe is experiencing, or has previously experienced, domestic violence and 11.8% reported having at least one co-worker who they believe is being abusive, or has previously been abusive, toward his/her partner.

The Impact of DV on Workers and Workplaces

DV in the workplace

Of those who reported DV experience, 38% indicated it impacted their ability to get to work (including being late, missing work, or both).

In total, 8.5% of DV victims indicated they had lost their job because of it.  

Over half (53.5%) of those reporting DV experiences indicated that at least one type of abusive act occurred at or near the workplace. Of these, the most common were abusive phone calls or text messages (40.6%) and stalking or harassment near the workplace (20.5%; Figure 3).

Ultimately, stronger evidence will help to shape legislation, policies, and practices that promote violence prevention and safety in workplaces, that hold abusers accountable for their behaviour, and that lift the burden from victims so they need not deal with domestic violence alone.

Disclosure of DV in the Workplace and Support Received

Overall, 43.2% of those experiencing DV reported they discussed it with someone at work. There are apparent differences according to gender, with men being particularly unlikely to discuss domestic violence at work.  Among all respondents, 28% said they had received information about domestic disclosure of dv in the workplace

violence from their employer. Among unionized respondents, 27.2% received information about domestic violence from their union.

Only 10.6% of all respondents think that employers are aware when domestic violence is affecting their workers, but among those who said yes, 62.3% believe employers act in a positive way to help workers experiencing domestic violence. Similarly, only 11.3% of all respondents think union officials are aware when domestic violence is affecting members, and among them, 86.6% believe unions act in a positive way to help members.

Where do we go from here?

This research has identified the scope and impact of domestic violence on workers and workplaces, but is only a first step. Immediate next steps include encouraging use of these results by governments, unions and employers to establish proactive practices to address the impact of domestic violence at work. Some immediate changes in the labour movement include:

The Yukon Teachers’ Association has negotiated special leave that can be used when workers need time off due to domestic violence.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has a network of social stewards who are provided training to develop listening skills, learn about available resources, and assist in prevention of a range of difficulties, including family-related problems. The program is particularly effective in Quebec.

Download the entire report and learn more about what we are doing on this issue.

Auxiliary on Call; a Tough Gig

It sounds great;  work when you want & take time off when you need it – plenty of flexibility and the freedom to make work fit your life. It’s a great arrangement for some, but working as an Auxilliary-On-Call or AOC for the Yukon Government can be tough and unpredictable.
Over 700 men and women work in uncertain positions across all departments of YG. Their schedules and lives are governed by the telephone; they often don’t know if they’ll be on duty from one day to the next. With no way to predict work schedules, family life and sleep patterns are often disrupted. Many AOC’s work in justice and health care and the shifts can come at odds with a regular work rotation. It’s not uncommon to finish a night shift, sleep a few hours and be called in for a day shift the next morning, followed by a few hours’ sleep then another night shift.
When AOC’s are posted into longer term positions, they work alongside permanent YG employees, but don’t enjoy the benefits or advantages of regular employment. There is no sick leave for AOC’s, and vacation pay is added to each paycheque. That means the extra pay is usually absorbed into the costs of living, and time off work means living without a paycheque.
Medical and Dental coverage is very different; unlike regular employees, AOC’s are paid a flat sum twice a year based on hours worked as a contribution toward their extended health care costs. That means that while a regular employee can submit receipts for orthodontia, physio or glasses and receive reimbursement, an AOC must absorb those costs; the twice yearly payment is not a reimbursement. There’s a big difference at the pharmacy counter as well; the cost of prescriptions isn’t covered as it is for other YG employees.
For many AOC’s there’s the added challenge of always being the new kid on the block, learning the rhythm of new colleagues and new team dynamics each time you go to work.
AOC’s fill an important role in government workplaces, providing on-call relief when employees call in sick or must take unplanned leave. Though terms should be hired when there are longer leaves planned, AOC’s are more and more frequently being called on to backfill positions of many months’ duration. While the work and regular pay is welcomed, the inequities between AOC and regular employee benefits becomes more noticeable in these longer posts.
YEU is committed to making sure Auxiliary workers aren’t being misused in positions that should be filled by regular or term employees. LOU “S” in the new CA ensures the employer and union will meet every 6 months to monitor YG’s use of AOC’s. Where possible we want to encourage YG to hire more regular employees to fill the gaps AOC’s now fill.