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PTSD recognized as work-related disease for first time

If you witness a traumatic event on the job and experience PTSD, you’re likely to find yourself out of luck and out of a job. But all that’s about to change in Manitoba in 2016.

People like firefighters, nurses and paramedics, who spend their days saving the lives of strangers, often suffer alone from PTSD without government support. For many working in the public service sectors, it’s no secret that witnessing traumatic events on the job can lead to PTSD. Take for example the case of Alberta paramedic Dave McAllister, who lost his license to work after taking time off for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome this year.

“It was very shocking, very concerning,” McAllister told CBC. “That’s my livelihood, that’s how I support my family.”

But for the first time ever in Canada, the Workers Compensation Board in Manitoba has decided to recognize PTSD as a work-related disease, providing benefits and insurance coverage for those who qualify.

“PTSD causes tremendous pain and suffering to those affected by it,” said Premier Greg Selinger in a press statement. “When a worker who has experienced a traumatic event on the job is diagnosed with PTSD, the Workers Compensation Board will presume his or her condition was caused by the job, making it much easier to access supports, treatment and compensation.”

He called the new legislation, which goes into effect in the New Year, “compassionate, humane” and “smart.” Selinger explained that the new law will help those suffering from PTSD “no matter what area of work they are in.”

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Helping those who help others

PTSD can strike those who dedicate their lives to caring for others in the public sector. A number of nurses have reported workplace PTSD. “Nurses are often misdiagnosed with occupational burnout or compassion,” Sandi Mowat, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, told the Globe and Mail. Mowat also tweeted that many nurses experience PTSD in Manitoba after being physically assaulted:

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Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, told CBC that firefighters with PTSD were often left to their own devices after witnessing trauma:

“What happens is they self-medicate. That’s why we have such a high rate of alcoholism, drug abuse, very high rates of divorce — because they internalize it,” Forrest explained. “And that’s the wrong thing to do because if you internalize it, it culminates into a very tragic event such as suicide.”

Crucial first step

In a press statement, Mowat called the legislation a “crucial first step in dealing with PTSD, because it recognizes the cumulative impact of trauma on nurses.”

Others took to Twitter to share their enthusiasm for the new legislation, encouraging their own provinces to follow Manitoba’s lead.

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