24 hour support line for First Responders in Ontario set to expand to meet demand
Toronto, Ontario (May 31, 2021) Retired police officer, Dave McLennan wants police and other First Responders in Ontario to do something they don’t often do - talk about their mental health.
Over a 30 year career, McLennan says he’s seen first-hand the toll that dealing with trauma on the job and not speaking about it has taken with suicide, alcoholism, divorce, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affecting First Responders.
“A lot of them see trauma and tragedy every day on the job and take that home with them. It can become a problem if they can’t speak about it,” McLennan says.
In November 2018, McLennan founded Boots on the Ground, a not-for-profit organization that offers anonymous and confidential peer support by and for First Responders across Ontario.
This week, the organization launched a public awareness campaign called “First Call”. It highlights how First Responders are often the first call in emergencies but also need a place they can call for support.
“We have seen demand for our services soar. March was one of our busiest months ever,” McLennan says. He adds, “We’ve seen First Responders with more mental health challenges than ever before.”
Boots on the Ground provides a 24 hour, 7 day a week help line for retired and serving police officers, firefighters, paramedics and Corrections Officers all over the province. It is now expanding its services to assist nurses in Ontario because of the huge toll on nurses who have been on the front lines of COVID-19.
McLennan is one of 160 trained volunteers who answer the calls. All the volunteers on the support line are serving or retired police officers, firefighters and other First Responders. They are given the latest peer support training and referral services.
Firefighter Rob Leathen is one of those volunteers. He was diagnosed with PTSD in 2019 and lost a platoon mate after he didn’t get the help he needed.
“What makes Boots on the Ground really shine is the call takers are First Responders with First Responder experience. Many also have lived experience with operational stress injuries. The volunteer call takers actually understand and get it which is vital for peer support to be effective,” Leathen says.
Since its inception, Boots on the Ground has fielded more than 800 calls.
McLennan says while the stigma around mental health among First Responders is improving and many employers now offer wellness programs, many First Responders still don’t access those services.
“Many of them tell us they don’t feel comfortable coming forward at their workplaces to discuss mental health challenges they’re dealing with,” McLennan says. He adds, “Sometimes, they think it will affect a potential promotion. They may still see it as a sign of weakness. That’s why we’re here to listen to them anonymously and to help remove the stigma,” McLennan says.
Boots On the Ground offers a toll-free hotline (1-[phone redacted]) staffed 24/7. It also can dispatch a two person team in the GTA for an in-person visit and plans to expand this service around the province.
Launched in November 2018, Boots on the Ground is a charitable organization that offers anonymous and confidential peer support for First Responders across Ontario. Boots offers a toll free support line (1-[phone redacted]), which is staffed 24/7 by trained volunteers. All the volunteers are serving or retired First Responders. Boots’ vision is to reduce and eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health within the First Responder community.
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