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Quebec City respite centre offers help to first responders

09/27/2014 12:46 EDT | Updated 11/27/2014 05:59 EST
Canada's only respite centre for first responders is expanding so it can provide more psychiatric support to those who are usually the ones giving help in times of crisis.

Last week La Vigile officially inaugurated its new therapy centre in Quebec City, creating another place where firefighters, police, paramedics, nurses and military can reach out for help if they need it.

Nadia Gagnon has been a provincial police officer for 19 years and calls La Vigile her second home. 

She says people chuckle when she tells them everyone could benefit from counselling, even if they're not in crisis.

"I recommend everyone goes to therapy,” said Gagnon.

Audrey Gauthier says that in general, people in her line of work do not seek help.

“It's very sad to say, but it takes a lot of desperation,” said Gauthier.

La Vigile is the only place in the country for first responders who need counselling, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, group workshops or just some rest.

Gauthier says they need their own centre so they don't risk running into their clients.

"When you go back to your workplace, do you want to arrest a member of your group," she says. 

Since the centre opened, counsellors have helped more than 300 people, most of them police and members of the military.

Military suicide

Yesterday, a Quebec coroner said a 46-year-old soldier found dead at his home near the Valcartier base last December was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sylvain Lelièvre's suicide was the fourth in a week-long rash of deaths that spanned four provinces.

Three had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, in the case of Lelièvre, the suicide surprised family and friends.    

Edouard Auger, a psychiatrist who treats veterans with PTSD, says often the toughest part is for a person to acknowledge they have a problem and to ask for help.   

Auger says now more than ever, soldiers are reaching out to centres like La Vigile​. 

He says there's also a lack of "success stories" in the public eye for soldiers and veterans to hear about.

“A good portion that have tried to commit suicide, [but] they've failed and it's a good thing," said Auger. "They are happy to have failed their attempt because they find out they can really be better, and have a much better life."

Auger also says there are clear physical signs of PTSD that loved ones can watch for: irritability, insomnia, nightmares and isolation.

Staff at La Vigile say the centre has been welcoming more and more military, to the point where they now represent 75 per cent of the clientele. 

Auger says the earlier someone is treated, the less time it will take to heal.

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