For Metro Vancouver police officer and part-time paramedic John Smith, working downtown on the night of the Stanley Cup riots was not a problem.

Repeatedly delivering tragic news to families, however, was a disturbing experience. Eventually, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“When it comes to having to knock on someone’s door and give bad news, you’re about to change their lives forever,” Smith said, recalling how his hands would shake on the drive over.

“I just wanted to absorb their pain, because it was me that was causing that pain… There are things you can’t un-see, and there are things you can’t un-experience.”

The federal government and mental health experts acknowledge first responders experience higher rates of PTSD and an increased risk of suicide. Five provinces have now either made - or have proposed to make - the disorder a presumptive illness for emergency workers to guarantee coverage for the help they need, but B.C. has not.

Making PTSD a presumptive illness means that diagnosed first responders would have it acknowledged as being occupationally related, and would be able to receive treatment much quicker.

NDP MLA Shane Simpson has brought forward a bill asking B.C. to follow the lead of the other provinces.

“This would say if you are diagnosed with PTSD and you are a firefighter or a paramedic or a police officer, we would presume that it was occupationally related and approve the claim without having to go through the application process,” said Simpson.

In an emailed statement, B.C.’s Labour Minister Shirley Bond says workers’ compensation coverage for work related mental disorders has been expanded, and PTSD is included in that coverage. However there is no specific reference to PTSD and first responders in the legislation.

In Smith’s case, he was able to access the support he needed, but he says he knows he is one of the lucky ones.

“I think WorkSafe B.C. could make it easier for the very people that need the help,” said Smith, noting he waited years before he sought help for the PTSD he had been struggling with.

“I think there are a lot of people out there that are living their lives in a quiet desperation… Pushing this legislation forward is just letting the people in power know that from time to time we need help too.”

Looking for more information about PTSD support for first responders? Check out these links:

With files from CTV Vancouver’s Maria Weisgarber