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Mental Health in the Guiding Industry

As guides working in difficult situations in the mountain, we often encounter aspects of our job that may affect us negatively.  Not every situation we encounter is easily dealt with, and many will have lasting repercussions in our daily lives.  Sometimes, in our line of work, we become injured, need to heal through modes of rehabilitation before we can return to work.  Not all injuries are physical in nature and often they are emotional and mental.

When a person has broken their leg at work, there are protocols in place to help with the healing, the recovery, the medical acceptance of the injury and the time it will take before resuming work.  With a mental injury, this safety net is not as clear cut to the employee or the medical system in which the employee is navigating.  It has only been in the last few years that the management of emotional and mental trauma has come to light and is now being treated with a more serious nature. 

The most important thing for us to understand is that an emotional traumatic injury needs to be treated the same as any physical injury.  First, we must accept that there is an injury, both by the injured person and the medical system that is treating him or her.  After the injury has been assessed, then a healing plan must be put into place.  One can no more get over an emotional trauma that one can get over a broken femur without it being set and casted.  Sadly, mental trauma was not treated like that in the past.  Often, guides and mountain enthusiasts were told to just get over the issue and continue.  Luckily our world is changing, and we now have better ways to treat these issues.

Accepting the fact we have an injury, and we need help is the first step.  Accessing resources to provide us with help is the next step.  Treating mental trauma is not perfect yet, but it is certainly improving from where we were only a few years ago.

Mental trauma, PTSD, and anxiety are a few different ways to describe the same thing.  Trauma is defined as an adverse reaction to an external stimulus, which could be from sight, sound, smell or situational experiences.  The difference with mental trauma is that the afflicted person does not get to choose what becomes traumatic to them.  What becomes a lingering effect to one person, may have no effect on someone else.  This means that many people may be part of the same experience, but only a few will end up with lingering trauma from the event. 

WCB has realized the importance of an early access to help in this area as it is much easier to help someone early on, than to have someone with lingering effects be out of work for months or even years after a traumatic event.  There is an 800 number to call to connect with trauma counsellors, and it will not affect the WCB rates or fees of the company that you work for.  This is a fabulous step in the right direction towards recovery. (1-888-922-3700)

The most important part for a person after a major trauma is to get sufficient sleep.  REM sleep is when our mind processes our daily events and helps us get past the trauma aspect of what we experienced.  After a major event, if we don’t get proper sleep, then the traumatic effect will linger, and our emotional state weakens.  Often this coincides with the retelling or reliving of the event where our brain never gets a chance to properly process the event and the trauma deepens.  Drugs and alcohol interfere with our deep sleep patterns and really should be avoided after experiencing a traumatic event. 

There are many different methods being used to help treat PTSD and anxiety with great success.  My personal road to recovery required using the LENS neurofeedback system and EMDR.  With these systems, I was not being trained in how to cope with the anxiety that I had, but instead these systems helped me get rid of the effects of the PTSD and I was able to free myself from the associated trauma.  I had finally found a way to heal, and not just cope.

Many people will experience trauma in their lives, and luckily there is no longer a reason to suffer with it long term.  The first part of the healing is in the acceptance of the injury, and that it is ok to have been affected by trauma.  It is not a weakness.  It does not mean the person that has it is dysfunctional.  It just means you have an injury, and you need to heal. 

Change takes time, and slowly our health care system is adapting.  Some say that it takes twenty years to make a profound change, and that sounds like the same time it took for me to accept that I had PTSD and to ask for help.  Hopefully more people will get help for this quicker than I did. 

Help is out there, and it ok to ask for it.

– Don Schwartz