Wounded Warriors help Ottawa officers deal with trauma

Wounded Warriors, which provides mental health training and support to police, fire services and paramedics across Canada, responded to a call from Ottawa Police today.

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Scott Maxwell’s phone rang early Thursday morning with news of the terrible tragedy in Barrhaven.

Maxwell is not a first responder, but his job as executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada makes him more of a first responder.

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The call came from a member of the Ottawa Police Service’s welfare team, whose officers had been called to a bloody house where they found the bodies of six people, four of them children. Wounded Warriors, which had partnered with Ottawa police just before the pandemic, would be willing to help with the emotional and psychological fallout.

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“We let them spend the day. They will do their briefings and internal support briefings. “When they need us it’s not the day,” he said. “It’s the days afterward when you no longer pay attention to that incident, but it’s still alive for the first responders.”

Founded in 2013 to help military veterans returning from the war in Afghanistan and their families, Wounded Warriors has since expanded to provide mental health training and support to police, fire services and paramedics across Canada. While soldiers tend to experience brief, intense traumatic incidents (a bloody gunfight, for example), first responders are more likely to endure sustained, unrelenting stress throughout their careers. Regardless, the effects on those suffering from post-traumatic stress or operational stress injury are remarkably similar, Maxwell said.

Wounded Warriors programs help in two ways: through proactive training to help people better prepare for trauma, and then to help treat the wounds it leaves behind. It also provides support to the families of first responders, who often also face the effects of trauma.

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Bill Winogron, psychologist for Wounded Warriors, compares training to vaccinating someone against a disease.

“The underlying principle is that we can teach people to prevent trauma. To me, that’s a much more interesting approach than waiting until the trauma occurs,” Winogron said.

“What you want is for people to recognize that they are being disturbed. There is a morality among first responders that is, “Don’t get hurt.” They don’t want to feel weak. “So, too often, we find that first responders wait too long to receive help.”

Everyone’s response to a trauma like the Barrhaven horror will be different, he said. The fact that the victims included children makes it even more concerning for officers, she said.

“If you have 100 different people you will have 100 different reactions. After the fact, we do trauma-informed therapy to help them process what happened, how to make peace with it, and how to self-regulate.”

Maxwell says Wounded Warriors’ work with Ottawa police won’t end when the investigation is complete and officers start new shifts.

“We stay in touch,” Maxwell said. “We know that people will almost invariably need more help. And who can they call? “They can call us.”

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