West Shore first responders report dramatic spike in mental health calls since COVID-19

West Shore first responders report dramatic spike in mental health calls since COVID-19
WatchWest Shore police, firefighters and paramedics all say mental health calls have dramatically increased and they're bracing for the situation to get worse.

For many, 2020 has been challenging.

“Despite the fact that I’m going through a divorce, living alone for the first time since I was in my 20s, finding loneliness so palpable. I’m doing ok,” one West Shore resident told CHEK News.

Some of the stressors include a pandemic and the isolation that has followed, maybe even concern for a job.

“I think everybody’s stress levels are higher than they’ve normally been,” said another resident in the area.

More people are stressed. And no one is seeing the increase more than those on the frontline.

“The most significant concern is the increase in calls for mental health. It has absolutely skyrocketed,” said Insp. Todd Preston, Officer in Charge of the West Shore RCMP

Over the last 10 months (January-Oct. 31), Westshore RCMP has seen a 95 per cent increase in well-being checks. Over that same time period, they’ve seen calls relating to mental health increase 25 per cent.

As a result of the increase in mental health calls, the force has had to shuffle officers around, disbanding some units to make sure they have more officers on patrol.

But it’s not just RCMP who are feeling the increase.

First responders all over the region are seeing mental health calls spike.

“It is definitely more than we would statistically see normally within our community,” said Colwood Fire Department Chief John Cassidy.

“Surprisingly enough, they’re not the people we would see on a regular basis.”

“Normally we have a wide variety of calls. Now it’s being almost exclusively to mental health-related issues,” said Chief Chris Aubrey of Langford Fire.

For all frontline workers, the increase in mental health calls is an indicator the community is stressed, having a hard time coping with the financial and emotional stress that’s a direct result of the pandemic.

And they’re racing for worse, over winter.

“We’re going to have six months of fall now where it’s rainy, drizzly, and dark, and that’s going to have an impact on people,” said Aubrey.

“It’s going to mean less social contacts. And while that’s necessary for managing COVID, that’s going to cause a lot of people struggle who normally would need those social interactions to stay mentally happy.”

And the spike in mental health calls is taking a toll on both sides, as the normal pressures of the job, add up.

“We’re feeling the result of a sustained increase in complexity of our calls and call volume over the last nine months,” said Brad Cameron, superintendent of Greater Victoria’s patient care delivery with the B.C. Emergency Health Services.

“We’re starting to feel it.”

First responders say they do have mental health supports available through their jobs.

“But that isn’t in place with the general public, who are dealing with these issues on a day-to-day basis and are not knowing where to go and how to get the help,” said Aubrey.

First responders on the West Shore say more people there seem to be falling through the cracks when it comes to getting assistance.

“This isn’t just a police issue, this is a societal issue,” said Preston.

“We need wrap-around supports for people who are suffering from mental health.”



Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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