FOUNDER - NATALIE M. HARRIS
Welcome. You are among heroes; peers who just like you, have experienced some form of difficulty coping with the sights, sounds, smells and memories of traumatic interactions with members of their community while on duty. I would like you to know that I too have experienced these difficulties, and am honoured to share a portion of my story to reveal how Wings of Change - Peer Support was born.
On September 23, 2014, I testified as a main witness at a double murder trial where, after two years, I would again see my patient, the murderer. This was followed by a service memorial in the afternoon for a fellow paramedic and friend (Bob Cooke) who had recently died. It was a day filled with pain beyond my wildest dreams, and that night while trying to numb this pain, I overdosed.
I woke up in the mental health ICU, where people told me I would be for a while. But they said I shouldn’t worry, because I had a lot of support; and that I did. Family, friends and co-workers texted, messaged and phoned me a lot over the next few weeks; for which I am ever grateful. But as the days went by, and the conversations started to dwindle, I began to feel very alone. I felt like I was the only person in the world going through the same type of pain, but I would soon find out how wrong this thinking was.
As I progressed through my recovery in a rehabilitation hospital and in out-patient therapies, I sadly discovered that mental illness was running rampant in my profession, and that the fear of stigma was causing so many of my peers to secretly suffer until their bodies and minds could no longer bare the toxic silence they believed was necessary to keep their jobs; jobs which deep down most still dearly loved. I was among heroes who believed that asking for help equaled weakness, and I vowed to myself that when I was finished my treatment, and healthy enough, I would work hard to change this belief.
After completing my treatment and programs, and while adapting to my new way of life at home, I realized how much I missed the peer support from others who were recovering just like me. Their presence and strength played such a huge roll in my successful recovery, and I was sad to learn when I went home that there were no regular support groups like this that I could still participate in.
Conversations with my friend and fellow paramedic Dawn Heshka, and Director of the Barrie, Canadian Mental Health Association, Jim Harris, who both agreed that there was a lack of regular peer support available in our community for those concerned with operational stress and associated mental illnesses, sparked my desire to research peer support groups in other fields. I obtained expert advice, (my sincerest thank you to Syd Gravel and Bill Rusk), and developed a peer support model that I thought would be well received. I then formed a focus group with peers who had just as much passion about seeing an improvement in this field as I did, and used their valued feedback to create Wings of Change - Peer Support.
It is my sincerest wish that this model will provide the framework needed to implement peer support groups everywhere, and compliment programs already in place. Through non-stigmatized fellowship and education, Wings of Change - Peer Support, encourages a new outlook where the need to be comfortable with uncomfortable, no longer exists.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Natalie Harris BHSc, AEMCA, ACP ~Paramedic Nat
WINGS OF CHANGE - PEER SUPPORT
During these meetings we participate in anonymous, solution-based discussion and education regarding any work-related trauma and mental health challenge. We always refrain from ‘trauma-talk’ (call/patient details of any kind) as this may be a trigger to participants and is best discussed with healthcare professionals.
ALL First-Responders, Law Enforcement Personnel, Communications Officers, Members of the Military, Healthcare Providers, Child Protection, Animal, Funeral, Correctional, and Judicial Service Workers are welcome; be they career, retired, or volunteer.
While an employer may be providing this meeting’s contact and location information as a resource they sanction, they are not directly affiliated with this meeting.
This informal meeting is facilitated by peers experiencing similar concerns with traumatic calls/events and who are interested in sharing suggestions on how to maintain or improve mental health. The diagnosis of a mental illness such as post traumatic stress disorder is not required in order to attend this meeting. However, we advise that all members seek professional medical help, and do not rely on these meetings as their sole means of support. Individuals are welcome attend as often as they’d like and to participate in the discussion, or to simply sit back and listen to what is shared.
For the comfort of all participants, what we hear here, what we say here, who we see here, stays here. Anonymity is a fundamental component to Wings of Change’s attraction, however we encourage individual discussion and sharing outside of this meeting on personal terms in order to combat mental health stigma.
We offer a safe and caring place for our dedicated community heroes to heal through talk, fellowship and education. If after the meeting you feel you require further immediate support, we encourage you to talk to the chair person or other participants.
Strengthening Community Heroes through constructive support and education.