A research project at the University of Regina is highlighting the stresses of paramedics in Canada.

The role of paramedics is essential in the community, but the stress of the job can take a serious toll on the mental health of first responders.

Mark Sulymka has worked as a paramedic in Saskatchewan for the past 25 years. In that time, he has responded to countless calls to traumatic scenarios most people hardly ever have to face. When he started the job, he had no idea what he was going to see.

“I came in with no advanced warning or preparedness for the things that you see in this type of work, the things that you experience,” Sulymka said.

These days, there’s a more open discussion about mental health for emergency workers. But, the university’s study shows that paramedics are the most likely to develop suicidal thoughts of any first responders.

“We’re asking them to engage with some of the most challenging events that occur in our lives and we’re asking them to do it day and day out,” said Nicholas Carleton, a psychology professor who co-authored the study.

Carleton said there aren’t many studies focused specifically on the mental health of public safety personnel in Canada.

“We wanted to fill those research gaps,” he explained.

The study was conducted across the country, using a web-based self-report survey to collect data that was taken by six different groups of public safety professionals, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics.

The results showed paramedics are most likely to have suicidal thoughts, followed by call centre operators and dispatchers, and then correctional workers.

“I don’t think that they themselves are failing in some capacity to manage those stresses,” Carleton said. “I think it’s just the intensity and the immensity of the tasks that we ask them to undertake.”

Carleton added making data like this available emphasizes the need for support for first responders.

“The results of this study, and studies like it, can really help to emphasize to the general population just how important it is to provide the supports for our public safety personnel,” he said.

Sulymka said it’s also helping to break down the stigma surrounding mental health.

“We’re trying to make our members available to feel more comfortable to speak out,” he said.

Based on a report by CTV Yorkton's Cole Davenport