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Helping the helpers: providing psychosocial support to those on the front line of the overdose public health emergency

Health Emergency Management BC’s Mobile Response Team is helping address the psychosocial toll the opioid crisis is having on those working on the front lines of the overdose public health emergency.
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​Photo credit: Jimmy Jeong

It’s been well documented how the overdose crisis is affecting people in all areas of the province. One group that’s been especially hard hit are those who work with people experiencing mental health and addictions issues. This includes first responders, frontline workers, those with lived experience, and counsellors. These people are especially susceptible to psychological harm from critical incidents such as witnessing multiple overdoses and deaths.

To help address this, Health Emergency Management BC (HEMBC), a PHSA program that provides emergency management leadership and support to BC health authorities, formed the Mobile Response Team earlier this year. The team provides support and education to help build resiliency and capacity to cope with the trauma of responding to overdoses, deaths and loss. It is made up of practitioners with diverse backgrounds and skills, and includes first responders, psychologists, traumatologists and art therapists. 

Lana Fox joined the Mobile Response Team after completing the Justice Institute of BC’s Critical Incident Stress Management certificate program. You may have seen Lana featured in billboards and transit ads across the Lower Mainland promoting the Critical Incident Stress Management program. 

She was inspired to take the training after noticing her peers and colleagues at the Portland Hotel Society in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside were being negatively affected by the opioid crisis. “I saw a definitive increase in the trauma being suffered by my peers,” noted Lana. “They were attending significantly more overdoses and having increased negative outcomes. Our tenants and program participants were dying at an alarming rate.”

Lana is now using what she learned in her work with the Mobile Response Team and is seeing the results as the team helps people cope with the trauma they’re experiencing. “Often it is not a single incident, but compounded stress injury. Being able to help people relieve their pressure valve so they can continue their work with greater resiliency is immensely rewarding,” says Lana. Read more about Lana’s story on the Justice Institute of BC website.

The Mobile Response Team is working throughout the province including Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Surrey, the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, the North and the Interior. It is available for deployments to all areas of the province experiencing critical incidents related to overdoses by scheduled visit as well as by immediate, on-call response.

Since it began in May this year, the Mobile Response Team has provided support to 148 agencies and 1,315 people in all corners of the province. Support can take the shape of one-on-one meetings, educational events, or providing debriefs following a death or critical incident. When the team is called in, they respond with customized practical supports as well as offering information and education focused on tips and tools for coping. The team’s objective is to ensure frontline workers and helpers are empowered to help themselves as well as others. 
addiction; BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services; HEMBC; People in Profile; Substance use
SOURCE: Helping the helpers: providing psychosocial support to those on the front line of the overdose public health emergency ( )
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