Ask for help.
That’s one of the key messages John Garth and Michelle MacDonald hope participants receive during the fifth annual Helping the Helpers – a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) awareness and education day.
The gathering for frontline professionals and their families will take place Saturday, Oct. 27 at St. F.X.’s Schwartz School of Business Auditorium.
“It is not a weakness,” Michelle said. The Antigonish couple knows, firsthand, how crucial it is to take that step, one that has been a key for their family on, as Michelle described, its “horrific journey” with PTSD.
“It is a sign of strength,” John Garth, a paramedic with PTSD, said.
He added more and more people – front-liners and their families – are “opening up” and seeking that much-needed assistance.
Tanya Snow saw that – John Garth her friend, mentor and former ACP partner was suffering; she knew that he needed help.
Her effort to do just that for him – and other frontline responders – became Helping the Helpers.
“We use an open form of communication that focuses on creating awareness of the signs and symptoms of PTSD,” she explained in The Day My Mentor Fell – a piece she wrote for the publication Canadian Paramedicine.
“We promote getting help early and help those identify resources close to them. The earlier we start treatment, the more productive we can be in our communities, at work, and most importantly, to our families.
“We want to catch these frontline professionals before they become such high acuity that most services in place are limited when the acuity reaches a point of crisis,” she added.
John Garth said each Helping the Helpers features a “tremendous” line-up of speakers, while Michelle described the mixture of professionals as “phenomenal.”
The couple will also share their stories.
“It impacts the whole family – we lived it,” Michelle said, noting that is an effect “we cannot forget.”
While touching on the message she will deliver later this month, she used the phrase ‘beyond shattered’ to describe the MacDonald family journey.
She explained those words – particularly ‘beyond’ – have a two-fold meaning; reflecting the devastating effect of PTSD on their family.
“While it is no longer controlling us,” Michelle said.
Calling the psychological injury as a “living monster,” she added, PTSD had “seeped its way into our home.”
“It devastated every aspect of our lives,” Michelle said.
When PTSD is “on the doorstep,” she reiterated the importance of asking for help.
“Don’t wait for a crisis,” Michelle said.
And, she added, the person with PTSD – and their families – need to learn as much as they can about the injury.
Warm, welcoming environment
Helping the Helpers is a tremendous resource in gaining that education in what John Garth called a “warm and welcoming environment.”
“People will not be stigmatized – they will feel safe,” he said.
One of the myriad benefits Helping the Helpers provides is a setting that reminds those with PTSD that they are not alone.
“We want everyone to feel as comfortable as possible and that they are among friends,” John Garth added.
After the speakers, the day-long forum will wrap up with a panel discussion – including a question-and-answer session – and closing remarks.
“It is coming together really well,” John Garth said of preparations.
When asked about its evolution, he noted, Helping the Helpers continues to touch frontline professionals, while more and more family members and people from the general population are benefitting.
“It has been very therapeutic, as part of my recovery,” John Garth said, when asked about sharing his story at these and other gatherings.
He added those speeches serve as a “coping mechanism.”
“And, of course, I hope they reach as many people as possible,” John Garth noted.
More to do
Although there has been great progress, through initiatives such as Helping the Helpers, the stigma remains, when it comes to PTSD.
“It’s getting better, but there is a lot of work to do,” John Garth said.
He noted peer pressure, along with a lack of understanding from many employers, remain an issue.
“There are a lot of barriers,” John Garth said, when it comes to accessing services.
Michelle noted if someone has a physical injury, help is there – right away – but a six-month wait remains when it is a mental one.
She also stressed the need for improvements in health and safety legislation.
“It is not what they signed up for,” a frustrated Michelle said, in echoing an all-too-common attitude that remains.
She added those who “selflessly give their lives for us” need assistance.
“We all have a responsibility,” Michelle said.
Room for more
Registration for Helping the Helpers will continue until October 19.
Like other years, organizers expect a full house of more than 300 participants, but there remains – at this point – room for more.
The fee is $20 or $30, which includes lunch provided at St. F.X.’s Morrison Hall.
During Helping the Helpers, there will be a silent auction in support of the initiative.
For more information, or to register, contact email@example.com, or call 902-318-5959.