IMPACT@Work: Brad McKay – First Responder

Brad McKay is a retired veteran with 33 years of service with York Regional Police. Brad co-created the York Region Critical Incident Stress Management Team in 1996 where he holds a position as advisor to the executive and alumni team lead. Brad started the Operational Stress Injury Prevention and Response Unit for the York Regional Police and lead the creation the Peer Support Team there in 2014. As a Certified Trauma Services Specialist, Brad has responded to and coordinated over a thousand interventions for front line responders and their families. He leads Trauma Recovery Groups, provides peer support in a weekly first responder yoga program, provides clinically supervised peer support. Brad is a Team Lead, for the Peer and Trauma Support Systems with the Mood Disorders Society of Canada. He recently co-authored “Walk the Talk” a peer support systems guide with Syd Gravel. 


Finally, Brad is someone I’m lucky to call a friend, and I’m always amazed and inspired by the amount of accomplishments he has, and how much he strives to give back to the community and make the lives of others better. 


In the spring of 2015 I had the greatest honour to be invited to the Canadian Depression Research and Intervention Network Training Program in Vancouver, hosted by the “Defeat Depression” initiative by the Mood Disorders Society of Canada. Being the only first responder there, I had the opportunity to bring a unique perspective to the training, but what I didn’t expect, was what I was about to learn. There were people from all walks of life, survivors of mental health challenges thriving in life and business, and
unselfishly sharing their knowledge and experience to the benefit of all. I was humbled and left Vancouver with a fresh perspective. We all shared a passion for wellness, and a strong desire to enhance systems of collaboration and support in our own communities and beyond. I met some incredible people. One of them was Ameera Ladak.

When I learned last year that Ameera had moved to Toronto, I was eager to meet with her and catch up on what she has been up to. I teach a class in Toronto every 2 months so we took advantage of the opportunity and met for lunch. I learned about her Impact Project, and am so proud of what she is doing. When she asked me to participate in the impact@work phase, I was all over it.

One of the greatest barriers to gaining mental in the workplace, at least in my experience, is stigma. It can be even more challenging in first responder organizations such as Fire, Police, Paramedic, and military, because we are supposed to be the “helpers”. Often we believe that we are not supposed to be receiving help because we are responsible for providing it. Too often we tough it out when we are suffering, and get help much later than we should. Often this is because we fear judgement or penalty if we ask for help. And although it is getting better in many organizations, we still have leaders, managers, and co-workers who believe that revealing a mental health challenge shows that you are weak. That we should suck it up or tough it out. Of course we know that nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the strongest people I know are survivors. I am proud to call them my friends and they are my go to people. These strong people not only survive but also thrive. My good friend and colleague Syd Gravel was promoted twice with the Ottawa Police Service after his PTSD Diagnosis. Two people that I know and collaborate with have competed and won Police Chief positions since declaring their diagnosis of PTSD. There are many other examples, and of course there is Ameera.

Any person who is on the stigma bandwagon should be confronted. This behaviour is unacceptable and their actions could cause damage to a member who has finally gathered the incredible courage to ask for help. Asking for help is often the hardest thing a person can do. A negative response could send them back down into that rabbit hole of despair with the risk of never surfacing again. Those on the stigma wagon may not be changeable. If that is the case, they should be told to zip it, so they don’t do
the damage they are so capable of.

The good news is that leading edge organizations are reducing stigma in the workplace by providing mandatory training for all employees. One excellent program is “the Road to Mental Readiness”. R2MR was developed by our Canadian Military as an awareness tool to help coworkers, supervisors, and managers recognize the signs and symptoms of a member who may be having difficulty. It was adapted to policing for the Calgary Police Service, and then brought to Ontario by York Regional police where it was demonstrated to the Ontario Police College and Provincial Police. It is now mandatory training for all new Ontario police officers, and most first responder organizations are adopting it for all their employees. It is excellent and easily adaptable to any organization. Training, awareness, acceptance, and inclusion, is the recipe for success as we erase stigma in the workplace. Our people are our most
valuable asset. They need to have the confidence that their organization will support them. Eliminating stigma will be a huge step forward.

As we consider our mental health at work, we must consider one of the most valuable tools we have – our own people. Peer support is a passion of mine and I have been performing it on a variety of levels for over 30 years. One of the greatest gifts we have received is a publication in 2013 from the Mental Health Commission of Canada titled “Guidelines for the Practice and Training of Peer Support”. There is no one we will trust more, especially in a time of need, than a colleague or friend you know who has
suffered a similar challenge. They have been there. And they will not judge you. This guideline reinforces the fact that there is no cookie cutter approach to peer support and reminds us that there is a whole spectrum full of methods that we can chose from to fit our needs. Displayed on a chart that runs from friendship to clinically supervised peer support, we can provide peer support with a casual coffee or breakfast meeting, an interest club, to more structured and purposeful formal support to very
structured support in a clinical setting, to support under direct clinical supervision.

You may find this hard to believe, but just yesterday (as I write this) I was conducting peer support at our “first responder” yoga group, while holding a baby kangaroo. Animals are an incredible tool that brings joy and positive energy to an individual or group. We have the ability, and the tools to think outside of the box. Pure peer support occurs naturally and easily from those who have the heart to give. It is not for everyone, and although a peer support worker will have been through lived experiences themselves, they also need to be in a healthy state of recovery to be able to give.

A Peer Support Worker will walk beside you with empathy, and without judgement, and will link you to resources that you need to get through. Competent Peer Support workers respect the fact that we all need to be the author of our own recovery, and that it can be attained in many ways. Early intervention with peer support can significantly shorten the path to wellness.
There is nothing more humbling than when someone trusts you with their most vulnerable moments. This is our opportunity to honour them and walk with them on their journey. And when they are well, let them go without obligation. I can tell you from experience that when you have your own challenges, you will experience those people showing up for you. Because together we are stronger.


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