1677308061 Mental health making peace with horror

Mental health: making peace with horror

The tragic death of two children at a Laval daycare center was a sordid reminder of the horror first responders endured. A paramedic from Urgences-santé and a Montreal police officer who suffered post-traumatic shock agreed to testify in hopes of breaking mental health taboos.

A paramedic from Urgences-santé who have been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder for more than two years, urges first responders to prioritize their mental health despite the deep connection they have to their profession.

“Today, I’m proud to have tears because that’s part of being human,” says Benoit Touchette bluntly.

The advanced care paramedic could return to the job he’s been doing for 32 years next May.

He now tries to reassure those who hesitate to acknowledge their weaknesses.

“We shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed of what’s happening to us,” he says.

Benoit Touchette himself crashed into a wall in the summer of 2018 after being taken to the scene of a child’s death.

“That’s not much,” he said to himself at the time. I got back on the road. I thought about it [à l’intervention] in the next two or three days. […] I managed to put it in a drawer and close the lid. »

hear screams

Two years later, however, the sad event resurfaced in his memory when, at the beginning of the summer, the Urgences-santé communications team asked him to raise public awareness.

“I had to get up from my job, go to the toilet and throw up, the diarrhea was soaking wet. The smells, the tactile sensations of the event came back into my hands. Shouting. I heard people screaming, and yet I was alone,” the family man recalls.


In the months that followed, various symptoms such as night terrors and nightmares appeared.

Benoit Touchette was unaware that this was all related to his trauma, believing it was burnout.

After a vacation, the paramedic’s condition deteriorated.

“For the first time in my life, every time I got up in the morning when I made the decision to go to work, I threw up two or three times,” he says. I cried all the way to work. »

Concerned, those around him encouraged him to seek help, but he hesitated.

“It was accepting to be in the role of the patient, the one who gets the help and not the one who gives it, he mentions. It was the most difficult stage. »

Then came December 28th, 2020.

“I’m going back to work, my boss is waiting for me. Helen [Brouillet, psychologue chez Urgences-santé] is online. She said to me: “Benoit, you’re not coming home today. It is finished. You take care of yourself.” Without her, I wouldn’t be here today,” he says, overwhelmed with sobs.

reverse role

Mr. Touchette then undertook a long rehabilitation process.

The Center for Trauma Studies, which has an agreement with Urgences-santé, has also accompanied him in his progress.

In therapy, he immersed himself in different situations with varying intensities.

The goal was to “see when I answered my call, to name the things I was feeling, like in a debrief with a peer helper after a real call,” Mr. Touchette points out.

The last simulation was also very similar to the event he marked in the summer of 2018.

more understanding

This treatment intentionally aims to create “prolonged exposures to traumatic memories,” argues Steve Geoffrion, co-director at the Center for Trauma Studies.

” It helps [les patients] to make peace,” he adds, noting that the success rate of this intervention is around 50%.

According to Mr. Geoffrion, the latest scientific advances make it possible to better explain the suffering of patients.

“We understand more […] how neurological and even biological responses can promote the development of PTSD,” he argues.

Eventually, Mr. Touchette was gradually reintegrated into his job. “I should go to the operations center, then put on my uniform, look at myself in the mirror. »

He then had to find his ease to survey the ground without interfering. Something he accomplished last spring.

After a murder, he agrees to ‘put one knee on the ground’

A cop has his feelings under control after years of hard work

Over the course of his numerous assignments in the uniform of the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal, Philipe Medeiros has learned to control the anxiety symptoms that are overwhelming him.  He now wants to help his brothers in arms.

Photo agency QMI, Joël Lemay

Over the course of his numerous assignments in the uniform of the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal, Philipe Medeiros has learned to control the anxiety symptoms that are overwhelming him. He now wants to help his brothers in arms.

A Montreal police officer, relying on the psychological help he received, found the strength to “kneel down” and temporarily hang up his uniform after it was turned upside down by a violent family massacre.

Philipe Medeiros was called out for an “unusual” number of horror scenes in 2019. His record: at least 5 murders and 6 suicides.

His resilience was finally stretched to the limit when he arrived at the scene of the triple murder of a mother and her two children. Completely exhausted, he took three weeks off.

“Having this awareness of putting one knee on the ground, I put it down,” explains the officer who met at the headquarters of the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM). I was able to get through. »

“Because of all the psychological help I had [préalablement], I was able to do the right things before, during and after. I think it’s very important in preventing trauma,” he says.

In retrospect, the patrol officer thinks that he could have taken this break a long time ago.

In 2016, just before a couples therapy session, Mr. Medeiros was suddenly struck by painful memories of his past.

“I saw deaths, childhood events, traumatic events, I started crying. I had no idea what was going on,” he says.

The patrolman then turned to the Police Personnel Assistance Program but continued to work.

“It helped me a lot mentally,” he says. I was missing a little something and I looked for it in yoga and meditation. »

less suffering

Based on his own experience, Philipe Medeiros has been touring neighborhood police stations for about three years to encourage other police officers to seek help before it’s too late.

“The more we talk about it, the fewer people will suffer in silence,” summarizes the agent Medeiros, emphasizing that in order to deal with overwhelming situations, it is necessary to have a good knowledge of the available support resources.

Otherwise “the recovery takes longer or we protect ourselves with defense mechanisms,” observes the 35-year-old.

The growing stress

Still, tragedies can strike the police without them even being involved, Philipe Medeiros said in an interview the same day two children were killed in Laval.

“Often when there’s family drama at other posts, I’ll call the sergeant and say, ‘If there’s anything, your people can call me, I’ve been through something similar,'” he says.

“We are able to create a scenario of what happened,” emphasizes the agent. When you hear that in the air and another cop goes there, all the stress rises up in us. »

They want more help

Police officers and paramedics are more apt to recognize the stress caused by their work, a new reality that is urging organizations to improve their support resources.

“The culture has changed,” says Hélène Brouillet, a psychologist at Urgences-santé.

Mental health making peace with horror

Photo agency QMI, Joel Lemay

Louis Francis Fortin

“I think it’s much more accepted and known, all of that is a post-incident reaction,” adds Louis-Francis Fortin, psychologist at the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM). People talk about it more and judge less. »

As evidence of this, the number of Urgences-santé employees who said they were exposed to high-stress events skyrocketed.

It reached 620 in 2022, almost triple the 2018 tally. A follow-up is carried out for each declaration.

“I think that today we recognize more quickly,” remarks Ms. Brouillet. There are people for whom the process takes less time because it is taken over from the beginning. »

Refine the offer

The finding is similar to that of SPVM. The Police Personnel Assistance Program (PAPP) recorded more than 5,000 individual counseling sessions last year, an increase of about 50% compared to 2017.

For years, the SPVM, which has five full-time psychologists, has been doing everything it can to optimize the surveillance of its agents.

There is also psychological first aid training.

Private partnerships have also been established to respond to requests for help. In non-urgent cases, a police officer currently has to wait four to six weeks before he can see an in-house psychologist.

Always more

Experts agree that new resources are needed to support first responders.

“If we could do even more prevention, maybe we would have to be less on the third line,” suggests Mr. Fortin.

For Ms Brouillet, the growing number of peer helpers and the addition of a psychologist at Urgences-santé are steps in the right direction.

“The project has to be supported from the bottom up, by people who have been there and believe in it,” she stresses. That is my goal. »

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