'There are some calls that stick with you': A dramatic increase in mental health disability claims amongst first responders
First responders, like paramedics, firefighters, and police officers say they often deal with mental health challenges.
Every day, they walk into unknown situations that can vary from something light to something traumatic.
"It’s a very heavy responsibility, the trust that the public puts in you," said Jesse Krusky, a paramedic with Guelph-Wellington.
Krusky has been a paramedic for ten years. He said he got into the field because he loves helping people, but often times, it can but a strain on his mental health.
"I've struggled with [post-traumatic stress disorder] for sure and depression throughout my career. It does take a toll on you, for sure," he said.
According to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, first responders experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) two times as often as the average population.
"There are some calls that stand out, there are some calls that stick with you," said chief Richard Hepditch, with the Waterloo Fire Department. "It depends on what a person sees, how they're feeling and so forth. Everyone has a different threshold and sometimes on a different day. So the impact can be long lasting, it can short term, and it could also be something that a person does carry with them for a long time."
MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORTS
Experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified mental health challenges. A psychologist with the Ontario Provincial Police said lockdowns and restrictions have taken away coping outlets that many people turn to in times of need.
It’s why mental health experts say it’s important to regularly talk about mental health.
Vivien Lee, the chief psychologist with the OPP said she often sees an absorbing of suffering overtime.
"I compare it to a sponge," Lee said. "Each call [first responders] go to, each person they interact with can be a drop of water in the sponge. You can go for a long time, you can absorb a whole lot of water, or in this case suffering from other people. And if you're not ringing out the sponge on a regular basis, it can really hit this point where you can’t absorb anymore."
"Whereas, if you’re aware of what’s happening and you’re actively engaging in your normal healthy coping and talking about the circumstances when they happen and they’re bothering you, then you can help ring out the sponge and you continue functioning over time."
Many departments, including Waterloo Fire, have resources and supports in place for crews to have open discussions following traumatic experiences.
"It’s led by our staff in most cases, if not at all, to ensure resilient minds and the wellbeing of our team," said chief Hepditch. "We have staff that are trained to recognize the effects and impacts of a difficult call or situation. When they do return from a significant call, the telephone calls are made, conversations are had, check-ins take place."
Krusky said what’s helped him is having conversations with those around him.
"Its so important to living a healthy and balanced life, and more importantly a sustained life."
SUBMITTING A MENTAL HEALTH DISABILITY CLAIM
According to Kotak Personal Injury Law, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of disability claims for PTSD and workplace burnouts from first responders since the start of the pandemic.
"I'm seeing with first responders at least a 50 to 70 per cent increase in claims that are coming across my desk," said Nainesh Kotak, founder of Kotak Personal Injury Law.
Kotak said the majority of the time, mental health disability claims are denied.
"The basis of the denial is that there is insufficient medical evidence. This is an easy way for insurance companies to deny claims," Kotak told CTV News.
He said proving a mental illness claim is much more difficult than proving a physical disability complaint, as it solely relies on subjective discussions between patient and doctor.
"You have to get your family doctor to become an ally," Kotak said on ways to getting a claim approved.
He said in order to do that, every time someone goes to the doctor, the physician will write down what the complaints are. If the issue isn't talked about, there won’t be a documented report of the complaints.
To make a disability claim, there are three components to the application:
- The employee statement, which are the symptoms the worker is suffering from
- The employer statement, which outlines income and the last day the employee worked
- The physician statement, which is based on the symptoms described by patient
"The physician will have to set up a diagnosis and the impairments in terms of the ability to work at one’s job," Kotak explained.
Kotak said if a disability claim is denied, insurance companies often give an option for an internal appeal process. He also said individuals can reach out for legal support where litigation will be made against the insurance company.
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