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450 first responders come together for afternoon of connection in Surrey

Options Community Services hosts event to address burnout among first responders
Dr. Jody Carrington speaks to a crowd of first responders during an afternoon of connection for frontline workers at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford on Feb. 3. The event was hosted by Options Community Services. (Submitted photo: Work BC)

Options Community Services hosted an afternoon of connection on Feb. 3 for frontline workers at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford.

The free event was attended by 450 frontline workers, including police, paramedics and social workers.

Tammy Dyer, the deputy executive director of Options Community Services, organized the event. Dyer could see that frontline workers in the area were exhausted from the impact of the pandemic and the ongoing opioid epidemic. She wanted to put something together to allow first responders to come together and support one another.

Dyer said our world is facing a mental health crisis as we come out of the pandemic.

“We’re not meant to be isolated and work alone,” she said. “We’re meant for connection and relationships.”

This is primarily what the afternoon focused on – connecting with people in similar front-line and high-exposure jobs.

“They need to know that they’re not alone, that they always can reach out,” Dyer said.

The event featured speaker Dr. Jody Carrington, an Alberta-based psychologist and author who worked as a civilian member of the RCMP in Alberta for two years.

Dr. Carrington told the Now-Leader that first responders are some of her favourite people.

“That is one organization (first responders) that I want to serve more than most other people because I think you can’t perpetually ask them to serve the most dysregulated, marginalized people and expect that they will not sort of enter into this world of racism or bias,” she said.

Dr. Carrington said one key to being successful in this type of work is having the proper support system around you, both at home and at work.

During the event, she highlighted the need for connection, especially considering that when things get hard, people often distance themselves from others.

“It’s this tricky game of trying to understand how you protect your soul, and then bear it all when, with who and for how long,” Dr. Carrington said, adding the culture among first responders is often to bypass the potential impact of traumatizing calls and “suck it up.”

Dr. Carrington also encourages frontline workers to start therapy the day they start the job.

“Particularly those of us who serve emotionally dysregulated people, so first responders, nurses, physicians, 911 operators, psychologists, journalists.”

Emotional dysregulation refers to difficulty in regulating emotions. According to Medical News Today, it can manifest in several ways, such as feeling overwhelmed by seemingly minor things, struggling to control impulsive behaviors, or having unpredictable outbursts.

Marisca Yackimec is assistant program manager with Options Community Services. She said the key is finding coping mechanisms and integrating them into your daily routines – make sure you exercise, have a good support group, and “find where you can get your little dopamine hits from healthy ways possible.”

Yackimec said more than anything, it was a great way to let everyone know they aren’t alone.

“It was just nice to look around and be like, you know, what as hard as this is we’re all in it together.”

READ MORE: More support is needed for first-responders, said concerned clinical counsellor who works with first-responders

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Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I cover health care, non-profits and social issues-related topics for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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