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Employment & Labour, Human Rights

PTSD bill a positive step: Achkar

A private member's bill that would establish a federal framework to address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a positive step in recognizing mental health issues faced by first responders, Toronto employment and human rights lawyer Christopher Achkar tells The Lawyer's Daily.

Achkar, founder of Achkar Law, says the bill is a step in the right direction when it comes to awareness, but cautions that such “blanket solutions” may not be the best approach for complex mental health issues.

“It might standardize it a bit too much to the point that if something doesn’t fall into a certain category then it must not be [PTSD],” he tells the online legal publication.

“Little intricacies, I think, still need to be examined properly because what separates symptoms for one person are simply not what happens to someone else,” Achkar says.

He worries that relying on a framework may exclude some people who suffer from PTSD if their symptoms differ. He also points out the difficulty in recognizing mental health issues.

“What one person would view as PTSD, legitimately so, may not be what a supervisor in a workplace would regard as PTSD,” he explains.

Bill C-211, the Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Act, was introduced by Conservative MP Todd Doherty and is currently undergoing second reading in the Senate.

If passed, the bill would require the government to work with provinces and territories to create a federal framework to address post-traumatic stress disorder.

Paramedics, police officers, nurses, firefighters, military members and corrections officers who deal with PTSD as a result of their jobs inspired Doherty to create the bill.

“Right now, there is no standard diagnosis of care for PTSD that is consistent from the east coast to the west coast,” Doherty said in a statement last year.

“Our warriors who have sacrificed so much for our country are not receiving the proper care and support needed to deal with PTSD,” he added, noting that he’d heard from hundreds of Canadians suffering from PTSD in his effort to bring Bill C-211 to fruition.

Achkar says employers should watch for signs of mental health issues in their workplaces and support those who made need accommodation.  

Further he says it's important for people to remember that health professionals and emergency workers are human and can be affected by their on-the-job experiences. 

“We think that someone who is a cardiologist is someone who is supposed to be so comfortable with hearts, and not have a problem with it ever, that [surgery] is the norm. It’s almost a flattering confidence that we have [in first responders]. We put them on a pedestal, but my point is that we tend to forget that they may personally be affected,” he says.

Given the nature of their work, first responders will continue to be at risk for PTSD, but Bill C-211 may help in supporting them once symptoms occur, says Achkar.

“It’s more of how do we deal with it when it comes up and minimize the effects because the earlier we can put our finger on what is wrong, or what needs our attention, the better we are at resolving it.”

Although mental health is a new topic of conversation in the workplace, Achkar says it should be tackled head-on to help reduce the stigma for those who suffer from it.  

He tells the publication that Bill C-211 may help those affected by PTSD, it won’t prevent it from occurring.

“That’s just the nature of the jobs,” he says.

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