It was fall 2007, and I remember sitting in the classroom waiting for our guest speaker Vince Savoia from The Tema Conter Memorial Trust to arrive. I knew we were going to be learning about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and I was intrigued, having been diagnosed with PTSD myself in 2000. Beyond that, my father and husband at the time were police officers. I had watched both of them go through some very difficult times. I had heard the sad stories from my dad and my husband about families breaking apart, about violence, murder, and suicide. I knew there could be a dark impact on first responders from their careers. It was scary for me to think of the impact this can have on their lives as well as their families’ lives. I knew that something needed to be done to protect my dad, my husband, and soon myself as well.
I was looking for answers, looking for tips and tools on how to function through the every day. I was curious to observe another person who had PTSD and to learn about how he had managed to move forward with his life. I wanted to know what it was he was doing to help others, and I wanted to be a part of that. As participants in the Primary Care Paramedic program, we were all there to, “help people”. But I also wanted to learn how to better help myself.
Vince arrived and I was captivated at once. I was so inspired by the work Tema was doing to help those who help others. Vince explained how his organization acknowledged that sometimes it hurts to do your job, and that it’s okay to feel that way. I felt encouraged when I heard about the ongoing research that Tema was funding and by all of the different agencies they were connecting with.
I also highly agreed when Vince said, “education is key”. Through my husband and father I had learned about the stigma associated with mental health injuries, and I had witnessed and experienced it first-hand suffering through my own injury and through the response from my family.
Throughout Vince’s presentation I was able to jot down some helpful tips and gather some information about resources available, and a crisis line number. I felt like I finally had some support, and an avenue for assistance if and when I needed it. It made me feel more confident as a soon-to-be First Responder. Vince normalized the fact that mental health injuries are commonplace and normal given the things we are exposed to in these professions.
Toward the end of his talk, Vince told us about Tema’s scholarship program. Right then and there I made the decision to complete the paper, even though I knew it would be a challenge during this time in my life. My first year of paramedicine had been extremely challenging. My marriage was in a complete breakdown phase, I had two children in primary school, 3 dogs and 1 cat. I was trying to hold down my part time job at a vet clinic. But I stuck with it, and wrote from the heart. I was the only person from my paramedic class to submit an essay and apply for a scholarship. The only one! I heard the usual excuses, ‘I’m too busy’, ‘I have to work’, ‘I already have too much homework’. They clearly didn’t see what they were missing out on.
My hard work and dedication paid off, as I was awarded one of the provincial scholarships for $2,500! As though that weren’t enough, I was treated like royalty the week the award was presented. I had the absolute privilege of meeting and spending time with the other scholarship winners from across the country, and developed some wonderful lifelong friendships. I was completely blown away when I attended the gala. The calibre of the event, the dignitaries, the honour guard, the absolute glamour and pomp and circumstance – I had never seen anything like it!
My decision to compose an essay to enter into the scholarship program was one of the best decisions of my life! I educated myself about PTSD, and had an avenue to express my strong position that not only do we need to support and treat the First Responder, but also the family members, too.
Since 2000, Tema has awarded 109 scholarships totalling $269,500
Since 2007 I have been a volunteer for Tema, and the opportunities have been amazing! I have been so privileged to meet so many inspiring people, I have gained valuable education through such courses as M.A.N.E.R.S. and A.S.I.S.T., both of which enable me to help myself as well as my colleagues on the road. Most recently I have enrolled in the SFU First Responders Trauma prevention and Recovery Program.
This year I have taken on a new role acting as a liaison between Tema and the colleges offering First Responder programs. The purpose of this is to reach the students before they get on the road and are faced with the unthinkable. To provide a foundation of information, and to educate the students about what Tema can offer them. Through this effort my hope is to help reduce the stigma associated with mental health injuries like PTSD. My hope is that the students will recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental health injury before it progresses to PTSD. I can't stress enough that education is key! I am so excited with what the future has to offer as I continue to work with Tema. I am truly grateful.
Please let me know if you'd like us to come to your college to talk about the charity and about Tema’s scholarship opportunities. This program is offered every year, and essays are due December 31st.
What is The Tema Conter Memorial Trust Scholarship Award?
Scholarship Awards are presented to the emergency services, public safety, or military students who best discuss, in an essay or journal, the psychological stressors of Acute, Cumulative and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the effects that these stressors may have on their personal and professional lives. "We want to ensure that people understand and can cope with the psychological and emotional burden of dealing with trauma and traumatic loss," says Vince Savoia. "We will be proactive in providing emergency services, military personnel, and the general public with information and strategies for coping with acute, cumulative and post traumatic stress disorder so that we can alleviate their anxiety and distress." Recognizing that early education is very important, each year the scholarships are made available to all Canadian emergency services and military students (including EMS, Fire, Police, and Emergency Communications students). One $2,500.00 scholarship is awarded in each province, two in Ontario. The best overall submission will receive an additional $2,500.00.